On Oct. 21, the Supreme Court listened to the oral arguments on the petition to strike down Republic Act 11935, the law that allows postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. The SC also required the Commission on Elections to file its comment to the Petition.
The Petition to overturn RA 11935 was filed by Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal who argued that while Congress has the authority to set the term of office of barangay officials, it does not have the authority to postpone the barangay elections nor extend the term of office of barangay officials.
By postponing barangay elections, and consequently extending the terms of barangay officials, Congress overstepped its Constitutional boundaries by effectively “appointing” these officials to extended terms, the election lawyer claimed.
Former President Duterte endorsed the postponement of the synchronized barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled on Oct. 31, “due to fears that drug money may be used to fund the campaigns of those running for barangay posts”.
“This proposed postponement of barangay polls would give barangay officials a longer term than governors and mayors who are supposed to supervise them,” Makalintal said.
He further argued that barangay officials cannot be appointed because under the law, they have to be elected by their constituents.
Despite his objections to delaying the barangay polls, Macalintal does not see any issue if the SK elections will either be postponed or permanently abolished. “There will be no problem for the postponement of the SK elections because it is not under the provisions of the law. The SK can be easily postponed or abolished through the passage of a new law,” Macalintal said.
He further said there is no constitutional provision against the appointment of SK officials.
The crux of Atty. Makalintal’s argument is grounded, first, in the argument that the COMELEC is an independent and autonomous constitutional body. It is should be free of influence or control from the Congress or the President. This assertion is supported by the following Constitutional provisions:
“Art. IX Constitutional Commissions
“A. Common Provisions. Section 1. The Constitutional Commissions, which shall be independent, are the Civil Service Commission, the Commission on Elections, and the Commission on Audit.”
“The Commission on Elections.“Sec. 2. The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions
1) Enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election, plebiscite, initiative, referendum, and recall.”
Sec. 9. Unless otherwise fixed by the Commission in special cases, the election period shall commence 90 days before the day of election and shall end 30 days thereafter.”
Second, the Constitution recognized in Article VI, Section 8, that Barangay officials have a six year term, contrary to the three-year term of other elective local officials.
The term of barangay official is determined by law, whereas the terms of other local elective officials is set under Article VI, Section 8 of the Constitution:
“Art. VI. Local Government Units.
Sec. 8. The term of office of elective local officials, except barangay officials, which shall be determined by law, shall be three years and no such official shall serve for more than three consecutive terms. Voluntary renunciation of the office for any length of time shall not be considered as an interruption in the continuity of his service for the full term for which he was elected.”
“Election of Barangay Officials.
“Sec. 37. Regular election of barangay officials. The election for barangay officials shall be held throughout the Philippines in the manner prescribed on the second Monday of May, 1988, and on the same day every six years thereafter.
The officials elected shall assume office on the 3oth day of June next following the election and shall hold office for six years, and until their successors shall have been elected and qualified.”
Finally, Makalintal argued that under the Omnibus Election Code, only the COMELEC may postpone elections in specific instances. This power to postpone elections is an exclusive power granted to the Comelec:
“Sec. 5. Postponement of election. When for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision, the Commission, motu proprio or upon a verified petition by any interested party, and after due notice and hearing, whereby all interested parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard, shall postpone the election therein to a date which should be reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty days after the cessation of the cause for such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect.”
“Sec. 29. Regular elections of local officials. The election of provincial, city and municipal officials whose positions are provided for by the Local Government Code shall be held throughout the Philippines in the manner herein prescribed on the first Monday of May, 1986, and on the same day every six years thereafter.”
“The officials elected shall assume office on the thirtieth day of June next following the election and shall hold office for six years and until their successors shall have been elected and qualified.”
Arguing contra to Makalintal’s points is the factual postponement of the Barangay and even the SK elections by legislative fiat.
In December 2019, former President Duterte signed Republic Act 114632 postponing the May 2020 Barangay and SK elections.
This law’s constitutionality went unchallenged, and resulted in the actual postponement of the Barangay and SK polls.
The sponsors of Republic Act 11935 rely on the strength of the previous postponement as the basis for their authority as the legislative branch to pass laws. This fact and argument, notwithstanding, the Supreme Court is not estopped from ruling on the constitutionality of Republic Act 11935 in the exercise of its judicial power and independence.
We await the wisdom of the Court in this highly sensitive matter. It’s consequences are not limited merely to whether or not the polls should be postponed, but especially whether limits to legislative power are clearly defined in the Constitution; and finally, whether the highest Court has the political will to assert its independence as a separate and co-equal body of government.
The way this Court behaves will determine the path to a restored democracy for our people.
“He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” (Proverbs 18:1-2)
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