By Ellson Quismorio
The committee on suffrage and electoral reforms voted in favor of postponing the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) polls yet again during a House panel hearing today.
The new date for the synchronized elections was set by the panel to October 8, 2018, from its supposed date of May 14.
Tackled during the hearing presided by committee chairman CIBAC Partylist Rep. Sherwin Tugna were four measures that called for the poll postponement, namely House Bill (HB) 7072, 7128, 7167 and 7217, amending for the purpose Republic Act (RA) 9164.
This is the third time that the Lower Chamber has moved to defer the village and youth elections, which was originally scheduled in October 2016 or just five months after the last presidential elections.
It was previously rescheduled to October 27, 2017 via legislation. The resulting law included a holdover provision for the sitting officials.
Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia (third district, Cebu) motioned during today’s hearing for the panel to decide whether or not they want to defer the scheduled May 14 hearing this year, Committee members voted 14-2 in favor of the motion.
Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu (second district, Batangas) then proposed that the date of the second Monday of October 2018 be made the new date for the Barangay and SK polls. That date is consistent with at least two of the subject measures.
The panel chairman carried the new date after 17 members gave their nod. The committee, upon the motion of Abu, then agreed to harmonize the four bills to reflect this provision.
The last Barangay elections took place in 2013, meaning the incumbent officials have been sitting on their post for five years now–almost the full term of a president. SK officials stepped down that same year.
Attending the hearing as resource persons were officials of the Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas, who supported the call to postpone the polls; and the National Youth Commission (NYC), which lamented the current lack of youth representation in the barangays.
Last year, the alleged grip of “narcopoltics” at the Barangay level–something highlighted by President Duterte himself–was cited as the main reason for resetting the village and youth polls.
The reason for the proposed third deferment was not discussed in detail by the panel, but Tugna later said in a chance interview that the ongoing Charter Change (ChaCha) effort had something to do with it.
“Ang pinaka-rason bakit pinapa-postpone ay pagdating ng October 2018, doon na isasabay yung plebesito (The main reason why there’s a move to postpone is that come October 2018, we can do the polls along with the plebiscite),” he said.
Tugna defended it as a cost-saving move, saying the conduct of the public referendum–which would be the result of the ChaCha discussions by the House–isn’t a mere “assumption” at this point.
“I will not say it’s an assumption dahil mayroon talagang gumalaw na isang committee dito na dinedeliberate yung [switch to a] federal form of government. Nandyan din yung side ng Executive department, yung Malacañang kung saan they will make proposals on the amendment to the Constitution. So in reality, there’s a possibility na maka-save din ng cost.”
(I will not say it’s an assumption because there’s a committee deliberating the switch to a federal form of government. And then there’s the side of the Executive department, of Malacañang which will make proposals on the amendment to the Constitution. So in reality, it’s possible that we can save costs.)
Duterte and his allies in the House are aggressively pushing for ChaCha to pave the way for federalism. The new federal government will have to gain public approval via plebiscite, which carries the scale of a national election.
During the hearing, Commission on Elections (Comelec) director Atty. Teopisto Elnas Jr. said that doing the Barangay and SK polls along with the plebiscite this October would save the government P3.08 billion worth of payment to the electoral board. This is composed of the teachers who will carry out the elections.
If anything, Elnas said the October polls will coincide with Comelec activities in connection with the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) for the May 2019 midterm elections. And this could give them some difficulties.
“Hindi naman talaga ganun kahirap pero operationally, dalawa ang focus ng mga tao natin sa field (It won’t be that difficult but operationally, our people on the field will have to focus on two things). One is the filing of [COC], one is the conduct of the Barangay and SK polls,” he said in a separate chance interview.
But the Comelec official underscored that the government won’t have to incur additional costs under this two-birds-with-one-stone setup.
“Wala na kailangang idadagdag na gastos dahil as I said, intact yung pera natin for the electoral board tsaka yung remaining pagkakagastusan natin, mayroon na tayong budget for that (We won’t have to incur additional costs because as I said, our money for the electoral board is intact while we already have budget for our other expenditures),” Elnas said.
Tugna said the consolidated measure could be approved on second reading as early as Tuesday, with possible third and final reading approval next week or just before Congress goes on a seven-week break.