Lawyer asks SC to nullify law deferring barangay polls

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 17) — An election lawyer on Monday filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to nullify the recently passed law that deferred the barangay elections to October 2023, and questioned Congress’ authority in moving polling dates.

In his petition, Romulo Macalintal said Congress has no power to postpone the election of barangay officials scheduled to Dec. 5, 2022 "because this power exclusively belongs to the Comelec (Commission on Elections)."

"At the outset, it should be emphasized that the Comelec, as an independent constitutional body, is vested by no less than the 1987 Constitution with broad and exclusive powers to resolve all questions relating to, or affecting, elections," the petition read.

Macalintal said Congress has no power to statutorily appoint barangay officials. Under the new law, sitting officials can keep their posts on a "holdover" capacity unless they are suspended or removed from office.

"The questioned law (Republic Act 11935) gave Congress the power to appoint barangay officials whose term will expire on Dec. 31, 2022... By virtue of Congress' supposed power to postpone the 2022 barangay elections under the questioned law, Congress actually makes 'legislative appointments' of these barangay officials," he explained.

He added that lawmakers can only fix the term of office of the village-level officials, and not extend the same. Congress can also change the term of office of barangay officials, but this should apply to future elections and to future barangay officials, he said.

"By extending the term of office of barangay officials, RA 11935 violates the principle that the term of said officials should not be longer than their superiors," Macalintal said.

The law also deprives the "electorate of their right of suffrage to choose their barangay officials" and is against the "constitutional provision that the state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service."

Macalintal's petition does not cover the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, which was also postponed under the new law signed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Oct. 10.

"SK membership is a mere statutory right conferred by law (and that) Congress may amend at any time the law to change or even withdraw the statutory right," the lawyer pointed out.

Comelec Chairman George Garcia told CNN Philippines’ The Source that the agency will continue its preparations for the postponed polls if ever the delay will be challenged and proven unconstitutional.

In separate statements, Sen. Imee Marcos said "it is the Constitution that vests in Congress the power to determine the terms of barangay officials. Necessarily, it is Congress which can determine when barangay and SK elections shall be held."

Sen. Francis Escudero said he has yet to receive a copy of the petition, but said the lawyer "has the right to question any law passed by Congress before the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds."

Meanwhile, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada said he defers to the wisdom of the Supreme Court. But as one of the proponents of the law, he said Congress is vested by the Constitution with legislative power and it exercised such authority when lawmakers agreed to postpone the said polls.

"Such authority to postpone the barangay elections as well as the Sangguniang Kabataan elections has in fact been exercised thrice in the past prior to the enactment of RA 11935," he added.