A GOOD number of members of the House of Representatives for their own personal reasons approved HB 4673 last September 20, 2022, to defer the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. Their co-lawmakers and many ordinary citizens say the move is a violation of the Constitution.
This could be one reason why every so often we hear the line: Lawmakers are lawbreakers. Again, they proved this to be true when they, as members of the HR, postponed the BSKE which had already been postponed several times before it was finally set for December 5 this year. It must be held as scheduled.
Approving House Bill 4673 continues to amend laws that were already effectively amended by the laws that were approved earlier and practically nail down all five laws that previously postponed the BSKE.
This is shown by its title “An Act postponing the December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections, amending for the purpose Republic Act No.9164, as amended by Republic Act No.10656, Republic Act No.10923, Republic Act No.10952, and Republic Act No.11462 and appropriating funds, therefore.”
The BSKE has been repeatedly postponed since October 2016 which was moved to October 2017. This was postponed to May 2018, then it was finally rescheduled to December 5, 2022. But last week, this was again postponed to December 2023. Pray that President Marcos Jr. vetoes it to allow this year’s BSKE to push through.
According to the lawmakers, the objective of HB 4673 in postponing the December 5, 2022 BSKE to December 2023 was to allow the Comelec and local government units to “better prepare for it and for the government to apply corrective adjustments to the honoraria of poll workers”.
The reasons are trivial. Despite being reminded several times, our dear lawmakers calculatedly forgot that our Comelec officials said they are ready to conduct the December 2022 barangay and SK elections.
The Comelec is neither suffering from electoral fatigue nor does it need a break after conducting the May 2022 elections as its officials admitted on several occasions that they will push through with the preparations for the December 2022 BSKE.
Then the lawmakers said that a postponement of the BSKE would save PhP8 billion that can be spent for the pandemic response and economic recovery, again (intentionally) overlooking that realigning funds released to the Comelec is unconstitutional.
The Comelec is a constitutional body that enjoys financial autonomy. Its unused money is part of a continuing fund allocation under its exclusive control that cannot be removed or realigned. Truth is, further delaying the BSKE to December next year would require PHP18.3 billion or an additional budget of PHP10.8 billion.
Our honorable congressmen know that their duty under the Constitution is for them to fix the term of office of barangay officials and schedule a permanent election date. They cannot keep on endlessly delaying the BSKE.
Indeed, Congress has already discharged this mandate when it enacted Republic Act 9164, the law providing for synchronized barangay and SK Elections. Here, the term of office of barangay officials was fixed for three years for each term and for them to serve for not more than three consecutive terms.
But what can we do? There seems to be self-importance here, forgetting that elections should be held regularly to ensure democracy in the barangays. Further delaying the BSKE undermines the constitutional provision on the regular conduct of local elections and the people’s right to elect a new set of local leaders.
If we look at the outcome of the several postponements, the barangay officials who were in power back in 2007 and who were reelected for three terms are still in power today and will still be in power in 2023 if President Marcos signs it into law. All in all, the barangay officials who were first elected in 2007 will be in power for 16 long years.
With that, our barangays will now have overstaying barangay officials who have to be relieved and changed, especially those who have become ineffective. The SK are now overaged and must give way to the real “Kabataan” officials because they have exceeded the age limit.
The SK or Sangguniang Kabataan today was then called KB in the 70s which stood for “Kabataang Barangay”. But there was a time when KB elections were postponed, especially when Martial Law was declared in 1972. This resulted in having overaged KB officials who were jokingly labeled as “Katandaang Barangay”.
With the postponement, the lawmakers have effectively extended the term and tenure of the barangay and SK officials which is contrary to the constitutional mandate for legislators to fix the term of office of barangay officials. They violated the Constitution.