Tribunal asked to stop village election deferment

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AN ELECTION lawyer on Monday asked the Supreme Court to stop the postponement of village elections to next year, which he said was illegal.

In a 27-page petition, lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal said Congress does not have the power to defer the elections set for December.

“Clearly, the 1987 Constitution does not give Congress the power to postpone the village elections or to extend the term of office of village officials,” he said. It can only fix the term of office through a law.

Mr. Macalintal argued only the Commission on Elections (Comelec) could postpone the elections for serious reasons.

Under the law, Comelec may postpone elections over incidents of violence, terrorism and destruction of election equipment and records.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. signed a law on Oct. 10 that moved the elections from December this year to October 2023.

The elections will be held on the last Monday of October 2023 and every three years thereafter, according to the law.

The lawyer noted that the law violates voters’ right to due process since they would be forced to accept village leaders whose terms would be extended.

“Postponing the Dec. 5, 2022 village re-election is a subtle way to lengthen governance without the mandate from the governed,” Mr. Macalintal said.

In a separate statement, Comelec Chairman George Erwin M. Garcia welcomed the lawsuit.

“From now on, if ever the Supreme Court issues a definite ruling, we will use this as a basis for subsequent cases on these election postponements,” he said in Filipino.

Lawmakers first deferred the local elections initially set for May to December amid a coronavirus pandemic. They said postponing these for next year would allow the government to spend the money on pandemic response.

In August, Mr. Garcia told a Senate committee hearing postponing the elections would require as much as P18 billion, more than double its original budget of P8.44 billion.

The Comelec chief earlier said they had spent more than a billion pesos on preparations.

“Clearly, billions of pesos would be wasted if the Dec. 5, 2022 barangay elections would be postponed without any valid reason at all,” Mr. Macalintal said in his lawsuit. Comelec has already started printing the ballots for this year’s elections.

“As far as my own personal opinion is concerned, I could have wished the elections should have pushed through on Dec. 5,” Mr. Garcia told the ABS-CBN News Channel on Oct. 13.

Meanwhile, sponsorship of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) 2023 budget at the Senate was delayed the agency failed to submit documents, Senator Maria Imelda “Imee” R. Marcos said.

Election officials had failed to answer questions from senators about its proposed P4.99-billion budget, including an “outrageous demand” to increase the budget for village and youth council elections next year by P10 billion, she told a news briefing.

The senator during a hearing also said Comelec had failed to explain how it would improve voter turnout for Filipino workers overseas and address complaints about the pay of teachers who work as election officers.

The agency must also explain its contract with Smartmatic SGO Group and how vote machines performed in the May elections, as well as how it plans to deal with vote-buying.

“We expect all agencies, when they attend budget hearings, to be prepared not only on the figures and amounts reflected in your proposed budget but in issues necessary related to your operations and mandate,” Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” L. Pimentel III told the hearing.

Comelec Chairman George Erwin M. Garcia said they were prepared “but it would appear that some of our officials failed to prepare the summary as being requested.”

The Senate expects to pass the 2023 budget bill by late November in time for its enactment in December, Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, who heads the finance committee, said earlier.

Senators expect to finish committee hearings by mid-October and plenary debates by mid-November. — John Victor D. Ordoñez