MANILA (UPDATED) — The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a bill postponing the December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections for a year.
With 264 affirmative votes, 6 negative votes, and 3 abstentions the chamber approved House Bill 4673, which seeks to move the village and SK polls to the first Monday of December 2023.
This will allow the Commission on Elections and local government units to better prepare and apply corrective adjustments to the honoraria of poll workers, according to House congressional fact sheet.
The same fact sheet explains that the bill mandates that subsequent synchronized barangay and SK elections to be held on the first Monday of December 2026 and every 3 years thereafter.
It also provides that all incumbent barangay and SK officials remain in office until their successors have been duly elected and qualified, unless sooner removed or suspended for cause.
Finally, the bill provides that barangay and SK officials who are ex-officio members of the respective Sangguniang Bayan, Sangguniang Panlungsod, or Sangguniang Panlalawigan shall continue to serve as such members in the council until the next barangay and SK elections.
The bill will be submitted to the Senate for its action.
Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto was among those who voted for the bill.
"I... anchor my bill on the idea that the budget for barangay elections be used in the meantime for activities that will improve food security," Recto said.
"I think that is also what the people want today, that given a vote on where the P8.5 billion would be spent, they would choose, by a landslide, food that could feed their families, rather than a ballot they would feed on the counting machines," he added.
But Recto denied that the cancellation would generate savings for the government.
"[We can't save money] for the simple reason that we are just delaying an exercise and not ditching it forever," he said.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) earlier said it would need at least P5 billion more if the barangay and SK elections were postponed as it would need to register more voters and procure additional supplies.
Meanwhile, House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers party-list Rep. France Castro opposed the House decision to postpone the barangay polls, saying it was "unjustifiable" and might open opportunities for power abuse, which "often happens with the abuse of people's taxes."
Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said the bill "subverts the constitutional provision on the regular conduct of local elections and the people's right to elect a new set of local leaders."
Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman also voted against the measure.
"The reason invariably invoked by the authors of the postponement is that the savings of P7 to P8 billion, if the elections are postponed, can be realigned to finance the pandemic response and the stimulus package is not legally feasible, utterly unconstitutional," Lagman said.
He reasoned that the poll body "enjoys fiscal autonomy, which does not allow any appropriations released to the Comelec to be countermanded by the Executive and utilized for other purposes."
"The remaining unused funds will constitute a continuing appropriation under the sole jurisdiction of the Comelec," he added.
The last barangay elections were held in May 2018. The supposed May 2020 election for barangay leaders and youth councils was moved to Dec. 5 this year through a law.
COMELEC MULLS CHANGING BSKE ELECTION PERIOD
Comelec chairman George Garcia is proposing to shorten the campaign period for the barangay and SK polls. The Comelec en banc will discuss this proposal on Wednesday, he said.
"The period of campaign is so long, 60 days din po... We do not want our people to be harassed by candidates going here and there. Before po kasi our campaign period was only 40, 45 days, in this case, 60 days. We like to reduce that," Garcia told ANC earlier Tuesday.
He said preparations were still underway in the absence of a law postponing the election.
Printing of the ballots for the BSKE is set to start this month.
The National Printing Office, Garcia said, can print an average of 3 million ballots a day. Printing 90 million ballots will require a month, while the verification of ballots will need 5 days.
Ballots for the December 2022 barangay and SK elections will feature additional security features, including an ascending serial number similar to paper bills, subject to the approval of the Comelec en banc.
"These are new features and so we would like to adjust the filing of the candidacy so we could likewise adjust the printing of the ballots," Garcia said.
— With a report from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News