With only 2 weeks left, House panel OKs barangay poll shift to October
Though there are only two weeks left before Congress goes on recess, the House of Representatives has approved at the committee level the proposal to postpone the May 14 barangay elections by five months to Oct. 8.
During a Monday hearing that barely lasted one and a half hours, the suffrage and electoral reforms committee voted 14-2 to approve the postponement of the elections and separately voted 17-0 to set the new date on Oct. 8.
Committee chair CIBAC Rep. Sherwin Tugna said the body would submit the bill for plenary debates as early as Tuesday.
Congress, however, would go on recess next week and would resume on the second week of May, right around the scheduled Election Day. But, no counterpart bill has been filed in the Senate as of yet.
Tugna admitted that without the Senate passing its own version of the bill, the elections would proceed on May 14.
“The Senate can do it if they really are going to do it, because there’s still five session days left. It depends on them, I only speak on behalf of the House of Representatives,” he told reporters at the sidelines of the hearing. “The two bodies would have to do it.”
If enacted, this would be the third time the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in the country’s 42,041 first-level political units would be postponed.
Originally scheduled for Oct. 31, 2016, the elections were moved to Oct. 23, 2017 and then May 14, 2018; this effectively extended the three-year terms of the barangay officials who were retained in a holdover capacity.
Just like when the second postponement of the elections hurdled the House committee level on Aug. 14, committee deliberations were concluded in just one short hearing.
None of the Commission on Elections’ four commissioners attended the hearing, to the chagrin of lawmakers.
Comelec director for election and barangay affairs Teopisto Elnas Jr. told lawmakers that the national and local elections would be affected by the overlap if the barangay elections were moved to either Oct. 8, 2018 or May 13, 2019.
Oct. 8, 2018 was the date proposed in the bills filed by Surigao del Sur 2nd Dist. Rep. Johnny Pimentel and ANAC-IP Rep. Jose Panganiban Jr., the latter having the plebiscite on the amendment of the Constitution in mind.
Meanwhile, Oriental Mindoro 2nd Dist. Rep. Reynaldo Umali wanted the manual barangay elections to be held simultaneously with the automated national elections on May 13, 2019.
Elnas pointed out “the timelines would get mixed up” for both elections, because the voter registration and the candidacy-filing period for national and local candidates are currently scheduled for October.
Assuming the constitutional plebiscite would also be held alongside the Oct. 8 barangay elections, Elnas said the timeline for the bidding of paper for the ballots and other paraphernalia would also be too tight.
Nueva Ecija 4th Dist. Rep. Magnolia Antonino played down these logistical concerns and suggested the candidacy-filing period for the national elections be moved to December, especially as the ballot-printing would begin in February.
For his part, Liga ng mga Barangay sa Pilipinas national president Edmund Abesamis said incumbent barangay officials, whose terms were originally set to end in 2016, would again support another postponement of the elections.
Abesamis said the current barangay officials have aided the Duterte administration’s push to amend the Constitution and shift to a federal form of government at the grassroots level.
“If the elections will push through, there are now areas in the Philippines where those who are interested to run are already campaigning and forming alliances, taking away the focus of these barangay officials from big issues and programs of the government,” he said.
He added it would take the new elected officials a few more months to undergo the mandatory Barangay Newly-Elected Officials (BNEO) Program and elect new league officers, further derailing the Charter change agenda.
Abesamis said the barangay officials’ support for the postponement of the elections was “not for any self-serving or parochial reasons.”
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio later shouted at Abesamis: “They say it’s not self-serving, it’s not selfish. With all due respect, your faces are so thick if you say the proposal is not self-serving! Many of you are third-termers!” Tugna had the remark stricken off the record for being “unparliamentary.”
This was not the only heated exchange during the hearing.
Caloocan 2nd Dist. Rep. Edgar Erice stated on record his claim that lawmakers wanted to hold the plebiscite in October. He said the constitutional amendments would include a transitory provision cancelling the May 2019 national elections and extending the incumbent congressmen’s term to oversee the country’s government change.
“Why do we want a plebiscite? It’s so the Constitutional change that would extend the terms for all of us would be approved!” Erice said, while some supermajority members laughed.
Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu said he reacted “strongly” to Erice’s remarks: “We carry the wishes of the people! We ask them and they say, postpone it!”
Presiding over the hearing, Tugna said: “I don’t want to get ahead of the people.”
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