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House cites Abalos 'scandal' to stop polls

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By Christian V. Esguerra, Alcuin Papa View the NBN contract and related documents MANILA, Philippines--One man's scandal can be another man's excuse. The controversy hounding Commission on Elections Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. has given congressmen yet another reason to justify their move to postpone next month's barangay (vilage) and youth elections. Davao Rep. Prospero Nograles Wednesday urged senators to support the House bill resetting the elections to May 2009 if only to allow Abalos to concentrate on his "defense" in the $329-million National Broadband Network (NBN) project. Abalos has been accused by businessman Jose "Joey" de Venecia III, son of House Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., of brokering the deal in favor of China's ZTE Corp. and receiving a huge payoff for his efforts. Abalos has denied the allegation. "The chair of the Comelec is very busy defending himself in this ZTE issue and he's supposed to be in charge ... of all electoral processes," Nograles said in a media forum in Quezon City. He said he had relayed his proposal to Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., who opposes postponement of the elections. Opposition to postponement solidified the other night when senators at a caucus decided that the Oct. 29 polls should push through, contrary to the position of some members of the House of Representatives. After Abalos retires Nograles prefers the barangay and youth elections to be held after Abalos' retirement in February 2008. By then, Nograles argued, the Comelec would have new faces who could "fully concentrate" on the elections. "Because of the supervening circumstances, maybe (Pimentel) will consider it, that we should have an election with a new chairman of the Comelec," Nograles said. House Bill No. 2417 on postponement was passed on third reading Monday and transmitted to the Senate. Makati Rep. Teodoro Locsin Jr., chair of the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, said his counterparts at the Senate -- except for Pimentel -- were generally in favor of resetting the elections. Mafia rule But he said he had been told of the senators' practice of consensus-building: "Either everybody agrees or nobody agrees." "I didn't know they work together like the Mafia," he said in the same media forum. The Department of Interior and Local Government said more than 9,000 barangay captains around the country would be ineligible to run in the elections after serving three consecutive terms. In a report to Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno, National Barangay Operations Office (NBOO) Director John Castañeda said 9,642 barangay captains out of the total 39,145 were now on their third and final consecutive term. The figures do not include barangay captains in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Current clamor "These third-termers are however allowed to run as kagawad or council members," Castañeda said. "Having been elected in 1994, they are already on their 13th year as chief executives of their respective barangays." Puno himself said the terms of barangay officials had already been extended for two years and the present clamor was to elect a new set. Puno also said it was time to hold barangay elections because barangay officials might already be exceeding their term limits as set by the law. He said that if the elections were postponed to 2010, then barangay officials would have been in power for a total of nine years. "Some of them will have exceeded the age limit for holders of public office as provided by law," Puno said. Gordon fumes He added that barangay officials who won a third term in 2001 would also be exceeding term limits. Administration Sen. Richard Gordon fumed against his Senate colleagues' decision not to postpone the barangay and youth elections. Gordon said that by giving the Comelec more time to prepare for the elections, the Senate was in effect allowing the poll body to again violate the election automation law. Gordon is the principal author of Republic Act No. 9369 providing for automated elections passed last January. The Comelec, under Abalos, refused to implement automation during the May 2007 senatorial and local elections, citing lack of time. Need to automate Gordon insisted the Comelec should have long prepared for the automation of the barangay elections. "We have to force the Comelec to automate," Gordon said at the plenary session. Senate President Manuel Villar insisted "there is no reason" to once more extend the terms of barangay captains and councilors as well as the youth leaders. "Some of us wanted to postpone it but we deemed it necessary to finish this issue since the candidates for the barangay elections have been waiting," Villar said. "Thus, to put this matter to rest, we made a decision and this decision is to push through with the elections." With a report from Dona Pazzibugan

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This page contains a single entry by published on September 21, 2007 1:44 AM.

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