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‘Congress has no power to postpone barangay polls’

Amid calls for the postponement of the barangay elections in December, a veteran election lawyer on Sunday said Congress has no power to postpone the village polls, saying any postponement is unconstitutional.

Atty. Romulo Macalintal said in a statement that the Constitution only gives Congress the power to “fix” the term of office of barangay officials but not the power to “postpone” their election.

“Only the Commission on Elections [Comelec] has exclusive authority to postpone an election after it has determined that any of the causes under Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code warrant such postponement,” he said.

Currently, there are 29 filed bills related to the barangay and sangguniang kabataan (SK) elections. Majority of these measures are calling for the postponement of the village polls on December 5.

Authors of the bills said the elections would cost the government roughly P10 billion, which could instead be used for initiatives to keep the people safe and help the economy recover.

However, Macalintal said Congress has the power to postpone the SK polls since SK is not created by the Constitution and that SK officials are not barangay or local elective officials.

“While Congress has postponed several scheduled barangay polls in the past, said act was never challenged before the Supreme Court [SC].  Now that several lawmakers plan to postpone the December 5, 2022 barangay polls to December 5, 2025 which would be its fourth postponement, it is high time that this constitutional transgression committed by Congress be stopped,” he said.

According to Macalintal, the moment Congress has fixed the term of office of the barangay officials, say for three years, the said term cannot be extended by law as it will violate the electorate’s right to choose their own leaders.

“For when the voters cast their ballots, the mandate given these barangay officials is only for three years.  Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that said officials can only legally and morally justify their reign by obtaining the consent of the electorate,” he added.

Holdover

As in previous cases, Macalintal said it is again proposed that the incumbent barangay officials be allowed to continue serving in a “holdover capacity.”

“But this, as SC ruled, is ‘a subtle way to lengthen governance without the mandate from the governed.  If they want to continue serving, they must get a new mandate in the elections as scheduled by law,’” he said.

It is unconstitutional because “holdover positions” are actually “legislative appointments” making holdover positions violative of the constitution’s rule that barangay officials should be elected and not appointed, he added.

In a case, Macalintal said former Justice Antonio Carpio said that “offices declared by the constitution as elective must be filled up by election and not by appointment.”

“Warning the dangerous effect of cancellation of election and appointment of Officers-in-Charge, Carpio said that if this can be done, it can also be done to other regions, provinces, cities and municipalities, and worse, it can even be done to the entire Philippines,” he added.

In June, Speaker Martin Romualdez said Congress is eyeing to reset the scheduled December barangay elections to save at least P8 billion that can be used to fight the pandemic.

“On the issue of ‘saving’ funds in postponing the election, we agree with former Senator (now Representative) Ralph Recto’s opposition when the Senate voted to postpone the 2016 barangay polls,” Macalintal said.

“Makakatipid daw?  Pero paano? The math here is that by putting off the elections for a year, we are only putting aside funds budgeted for the elections for a year. We can only save money if we are permanently cancelling the polls. But we are only postponing it,”  he added.

Macalintal said this only means that the government will just delay the billions of pesos already appropriated for the December 5 elections.

“But in the end, we still have to spend the same or even more as the value of the Philippine peso depreciates. Worse, we will be governed by people who do not have our mandate,” said Macalintal.

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