Volunteers of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting attend Mass during a break in the canvass of votes during the 2016 Philippine national elections. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
A church-backed Philippine poll watchdog has welcomed another postponement of village and youth leader elections scheduled for later this month.
President Rodrigo Duterte signed a decree on Oct. 3 postponing the local elections to the second Monday in May in 2018.
The decree, signed less than three weeks before the scheduled elections on Oct. 23, allows incumbent officials to remain in office.
The elections were originally scheduled for Oct. 31, 2016, but these were moved to Oct. 23, 2017, after Duterte said he wanted the elections deferred because of possible drug money funding the local politicians' campaigns.
Of the 42,000 villages in the country, about 20,000 are considered tainted by illegal drugs, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Duterte also said in December that dozens of village officials were on what he called a "narco-list" containing the names of personalities allegedly connected to the illegal drug trade.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, a church-backed poll watchdog, welcomed the president's decision to delay the elections, despite criticizing the initial delay in 2016.
"The uncertainty [over the polls] among incumbent village officials, among possible candidates, among [non-government groups] electoral groups will end," said lawyer Rene Sarmiento, chairman of the watchdog.
The church group, a citizen's arm of the Commission on Elections, has been helping the poll body in the verification of the official list of voters.
The group earlier said the government's plan to postpone the polls "is no substitute to periodic elections in a democracy to check the accountability of elected officials."
Sarmiento, however, said that now that the president has signed a decree postponing the polls "time, effort and expense can be channeled to other constructive nation-building concerns."
Andres Bautista, chairman of the Commission on Elections, also welcomed the postponement and advised all deputized agencies "to immediately begin ramping down their election-related activities and await more detailed instructions."