House reviews proposal to delay bgy, SK polls

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 18 2010 06:37 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2010 02:37 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Despite the risk of a presidential veto, the House of Representatives Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms is now considering a proposal to postpone the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections from October this year to next year.

Chairman Jose Melo of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) told legislators that he is backing the postponement of the barangay and SK elections to 2011 to give the Comelec more time to prepare for a possible manual election.

He said resetting the barangay and SK polls to 2013 would be tedious and laborious since it would coincide with the scheduled midterm elections. He said that under an automated set up, some 42,000 different kinds of ballots corresponding to barangays alone will have to be printed, separate from the national and other local positions that will be up for grabs during that election.

He said an automated election would require candidacies to be filed at least 10 months before the election and will send the cost for the reclustering of the precincts to as high as P28 billion. He added that Comelec will also have to recluster from the current 1,000 voters per precinct to a smaller number of voters per precinct.

Melo rejected a proposal to hold the elections in 2012 since it would be too close to the 2013 polls.

For his part, Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said the poll body could synchronize the barangay and SK elections with the regional elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in August 2011 or push it back to October of that year.

Melo urged the legislative and executive departments to come to a consensus on the matter, citing President Benigno Aquino III's preference for the elections to push through this year. He added that Comelec can still push through with the barangay and SK polls this year if ordered. 

Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, chairman of the House committee on suffrage, said he hopes lawmakers will be able to convince Aquino that postponing the elections is for the best. He said he does not think the President will veto a measure seeking to postpone the barangay and SK polls.

"We also have to consider that the Speaker and Senate President are close to the President and perhaps there would be no danger if everyone of them would be asking what would be the respective position of the House, the Senate as well as the President, because these would be the 3 institutions crucial to the passage of this law," he said.

Congress has until the first week of October to pass a law rescheduling the elections since it needs to be published at least 15 days before it can be effective. The elections are due on the last Monday of October.

Caucus on poll

Barzaga and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte have urged House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. to call an all-Member caucus of lawmakers next week to get the sense of all congressmen and plot a way to expedite the passage of the consolidated measure.

"I'm sure we can arrive at a consensus that we can postpone the holding of a barangay election and then we can have the leadership of the House together with the few members to go and see the leadership of the Senate. Then we can give the signal to the Comelec that they can proceed on the assumption that it will be postponed," Villafuerte said.

Barzaga approved a motion to consolidate some 21 bills and 2 resolutions rescheduling the elections to various dates, ranging from 2011 to 2013. The committee's technical working group was given until the end of the week to consolidate the measures.

Barzaga, however, clarified that the pending legislation will only tackle the rescheduling of the elections and not the abolition of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

Various stakeholders attended the jampacked committee hearing on Wednesday. Among the attendees were representatives of the City Mayors' League and the Liga ng mga Baranggay, which both supported the rescheduling of the elections.

A representative of the Sangguniang Kabataan Federation also spoke against the proposal to abolish the SK and called for SK reforms instead.

In a statement read by Valenzuela City Mayor Sherwin Gatchalian, the City Mayor's League cited various informal surveys their group commissioned that supposedly showed support for the cancellation of the election.

Separately, Caloocan City Councilor Rico Judge Echiverri read a statement by the Liga ng mga Baranggay defending the postponement of the election and extending the terms of incumbent officials.

The group said that while the postponement will give them a term extension, it will also give them time to finish their projects.

Both cited the savings for the government and the candidates as well as the further easing of political tensions and divisiveness from the recent national elections.

SK Federation President Jane Cajes pleaded with lawmakers not to abolish the youth councils after President Aquino called for SK representatives to instead be elected into the barangay councils.

The audience of the committee hearing inside the Batasan Pambansa Ramon V. Mitra Room 11 was obviously pro-postponement. Everyone applauded the approval of the motion to consolidate all pending legislation, until Barzaga reminded them that the measure has not been approved.

Savings from delayed polls

Meanwhile, the government stands to save at least P3 billion this year from the possible postponement of the elections.

Chairman Melo said the money can be realigned to vital government projects.

Minority Leader Edcel Lagman, however, warned Melo that funds cannot just be realigned to projects that have not been the subject of appropriations.

So far,  the budget department has released special allotment release orders (SARO) and notices of cash allocation worth P168 million for the registration of voters and preparations for the October elections.

Among those present at the hearing are some of the authors of the pending legislation, which include Lagman, Barzaga, Villafuerte, and Representatives Anthony Golez, Manny Pacquiao, Pedro Romualdo, Tupay Loong, Emil Ong and Gabriel Quisumbing.

Cagayan de Oro  Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, for his part, filed a bill seeking to amend the Constitution to give 4-year terms to all government officials from the barangay to the President.