EDITORIAL - Breach of contract

The Philippine Star

Voters elect officials for a specified period of service. This is a contract that ensures the steady refreshment of mandates through the ultimate manifestation of representative democracy, the vote. And it constitutes a breach of contract when that term of office is extended, according to a former official of the Commission on Elections, lawyer Luie Tito Guia.

This is just one of the arguments raised against the latest effort to give barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials yet another term extension, this time by another year, through the postponement of the village and SK elections set for this December.

Lawmakers have dropped their original argument for the latest extension – to “save” the P8 billion allocated in this year’s national budget for the elections and divert it to pandemic response. This was after the Comelec chairman himself, George Garcia, told the Senate that resetting the polls to December next year would in fact bloat public expenditures by a whopping P18 billion.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, among the handful of lawmakers who rejected the postponement, also pointed out that the Comelec enjoys fiscal autonomy and its budget for an electoral exercise cannot be impounded as savings or diverted to purposes other than what has been specified in the annual General Appropriations Act.

All election watchdog groups have also opposed what is turning into a habit of Malacañang and Congress to express gratitude to their political leaders at the grassroots by extending the terms of barangay and SK officials. Other people want to have a chance, at specified intervals, to serve in their barangays and youth councils, the watchdogs have pointed out.

Yet after running out of reasonable arguments, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the bill postponing the elections again, while the Senate has passed its version on second reading, with the third usually a mere formality. The latest reasoning is that Congress wants time to deliberate on reforms in the barangay and SK system, including proposals to give the officials longer terms of up to six years – a proposal that the Comelec chairman has also rejected.

If amendments or an entirely new law will be passed, it cannot benefit incumbent officials. So why extend the terms of the latest crop of village and SK officials? The elections should serve as a referendum on their performance throughout the pandemic. The vote should also help dispel suspicions that certain village and youth council officials were engaged in vote buying and other forms of fraud in the elections this year. Why are lawmakers instead falling all over themselves to give the officials another term extension?

President Marcos can still restore sanity in the selection of these officials, by sending word to the super majority in both chambers of Congress that he wants the polls to push ahead as scheduled this December. If his allies refuse to heed his voice, he can always veto any measure sent to his desk.

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