Allies of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte have drafted a bill aimed at postponing more than 40,000 village council elections as part of the government's war on drugs, granting him power to choose replacements.
If passed by congress, the move would make Duterte, the Philippines' most powerful leader since former President Ferdinand Marcos' rule.
Duterte claimed that 40 percent of the country's village chiefs, identified as barangay captains, are "into drugs" and are hindering his administration's anti-drug crackdown, which has killed more than 8,000 people since he took office in June last year.
A third of the people were killed in raids and sting operations by police who say they acted in self-defence, while the rest were killed by unknown gunmen.
The bid to delay the barangay polls due in October has been filed by Congressman Robert Barbers, with the support of Duterte follower and House of Representatives speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. They say the aim is to stop local drugs barons from winning posts.
Barbers, who heads the house committee on drugs, told Reuters news agency that the move was neither authoritarian nor undemocratic because "extraordinary times need extraordinary measures.
"Especially if we give access to the drug lords to come into play, maybe run for public office. And that's more dangerous," he said.
The legislation, scheduled to be discussed when congress resumes on May 2, seeks to postpone for a second consecutive year the ballot for 336,000 chairmen and councillors in the country's 42,000 barangays. The barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippines.
Duterte's spokesman, Ernesto Abella, said the president wanted to keep drugs out of politics, but would let legislators decide on the elections.
"He is aware of the process, respects the law, and defers to the independence of congress," Abella said.
However, instead of extending the tenure of incumbents, Duterte's supporters want to declare all positions vacant until 2020, and allow the president to appoint councillors of his choice, effectively expanding his control of the executive and legislative branches to the local government apparatus.
Critics say Duterte has no authority to postpone the elections and are suspicious of his motives.
Congressman Edcel Lagman said the democratic process "should never be sacrificed to the questionable scheme of the president and his cheerleaders".
Former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel, the author of a 1991 Local Government Code, called the plan "a joke" and said Duterte should jail rogue officials instead of purging all barangay leaders.
"We cannot do away with the right of the people to elect their own leaders," he said on television.
Meanwhile, Duterte unleashed an expletive-laden tirade on Thursday against the country's leading newspaper and television network, threatening to humiliate them and their owners, whom he accused of distorting news of his anti-drug campaign.
Duterte, who has had a thorny relationship with the media, complained that his administration's anti-drug campaign has been portrayed as targeting the poor in a televised appearance.
Responding to accounts of his alleged corruption, Duterte said he will resign if reports of undeclared bank deposits are proven.
Describing the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and ABS-CBN television network as "fools", he said that he would use the state-owned network to ridicule them in order "to get even".
"There are press [people] who are sons of b****es and who know nothing but lies," Duterte said in a national speech at the oath-taking of government officials at Manila's presidential palace.
"Inquirer, you've never been fair. I know that it's supposed to be antagonistic but fair? You're rude," he added.
"ABS-CBN is also rude, really rude."
In response, the Philippine Daily Inquirer Executive Editor Jose Ma. Nolasco said in a statement that it has been fair in its coverage of Duterte and his administration, and has continuously included his side in any controversy, adding that the newspaper runs an opinion column, where cabinet officials expand on government policies.
There has been no immediate statement from ABS-CBN.
Source: News agencies