House endorses measure to reset BSKE to December 2023 for Senate approval

The House of Representatives on Tuesday endorsed for Senate approval the bill postponing the December 5, 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) to December 4, 2023.

This after lawmakers—voting 264 affirmative, 6 negative and 3 abstentions—approved on third and final reading House Bill 4673 to allow the deferment of this year’s BSKE and move its date to the first Monday of December 2023.

Earlier, House Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe said the House leadership wants the proposal to be signed into law by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. before the scheduled BSKE on December 5.

Once passed into law, incumbent barangay and SK officials will retain their positions on a hold over capacity “unless sooner removed or suspended for cause.”

Dalipe said Speaker Martin Romualdez is supportive of the proposal because this would allow the Commission and Elections and local government units to better prepare for clean and orderly barangay polls and provide the government ample time to apply corrective adjustments to the honoraria of poll workers.

Albay Rep. Edcel C. Lagman opposed the postponement of BSKE scheduled on December 5, 2022 to the first Monday of December 2023.

“The reason invariably invoked by the authors of the postponement is that the savings of P7 billion to P8 billion, if the elections are postponed, can be realigned to finance the pandemic response and the stimulus package for economic recovery,” Lagman said.

“The aforesaid reason is utterly unconstitutional because the Comelec enjoys fiscal autonomy, which includes a prohibition that any appropriations released to the Comelec cannot 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.

Lagman added that the reason the Comelec needs a respite after conducting the May 2022 national and local elections is not clear, to say the least, because the poll body itself has repeatedly said that it is ready to conduct the December 2022 village and youth elections.

“No less than Comelec Chairman George Garcia relayed to legislators that a postponement of the barangay elections to December 2023 will be a costly exercise because additional funds would be needed to the tune of P18.358 billion constituting the P7.5 billion savings as continuing appropriation and an additional budget of P10.858 billion,” he added.

“Elections are the bedrock of democratic governments. Democracy at the grassroots must be assured by holding regular elections for barangay and SK officials and should not be imperiled by repeated postponements of grassroots elections,” Lagman said.

Earlier, Chairman Garcia said the poll body would need a total of P18 billion if Congress approves the BSKE postponement to December 4, 2023.

The budget for the postponement of the elections to 2023 is far from its original budget of P8.4 billion for the December 5, 2022 elections.

Authors of the bill said their proposals are expected to generate savings of approximately P8 billion for the government, which could instead be used for initiatives to keep the people safe and help the economy bounce back.

Garcia said the body has already disbursed and obligated P1 billion of the P8.4 billion budget allocated for the December 2022 elections.

However, Garcia admitted that there is no budget for the conduct of 2023 BSKE in the 2023 National Expenditure Program.

“No budget would mean that no budget for Comelec to spend for the conduct of that electoral exercise,” said Garcia.