Cure defects than to veto

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Well and good that both chambers of the 19th Congress were proud of the accomplishments chalked up during the first regular sessions before they adjourned last week. In fact, Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri and Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, along with key leaders of the 19th Congress, had a ceremonial signing of the two enrolled bills that have been immediately transmitted to Malacañang Palace for approval into law by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM for short).

These were, namely, the bill on the Mandatory Registration of SIM, and, the postponement and resetting of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) from Dec.12, 2022 to Dec.11, 2023. The ceremonial signing was done last Tuesday held not in Congress but at the Manila Golf Club.

The two ratified bills were included in the “first 100 days” version of the House leadership accomplishment report. In his own report card, Romualdez detailed the bills and resolutions they acted on until the last session day on Sept.30. Technically, both chambers had less than 100 days of sessions since it jointly opened last July 25. Both the Senate and the Lower House hold sessions three days a week. In between sessions, the lawmakers conduct committee public hearings five days a week.

On the part of the Senate, Zubiri noted, the Senators also attended to the immediate confirmation of Cabinet officials and other nominees of PBBM. However, ten of the Cabinet as well as the nomination of Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Nelson Celis got bypassed at the Commission on Appointments (CA) when it also adjourned sessions last week.

The President was supposed to sign into law yesterday the bills on SIM Registration and the BSKE postponement, Zubiri disclosed. But the Senate chief added he was informed yesterday that Malacañang reset the signing to next week. A few hours after taking his oath of office also last Tuesday at Malacañang, newly minted Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin reminded reporters that PBBM earlier certified the two enrolled bills as urgent administration legislative measures.

Thus, Bersamin believes there should be no reason why PBBM will not sign the first two legislative outputs of the 19th Congress.

Procedurally, however, enrolled bills must first go through the review and vetting process of the Office of the Executive Secretary. A retired Supreme Court Chief Justice, Bersamin is naturally expected to be thorough in the review of not just legal but also constitutional issues and concerns on all documents and matters that pass through his desk.

Comelec official spokesman and lawyer John Rex Laudiangco, however, raised the other possibility the BSKE might get vetoed by the President. Speaking in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last Wednesday, Laudiangco, however, clarified the poll body is 80 percent ready in case the President decides to veto the Congress-approved bill to postpone anew the BSKE.

The last synchronized BSKE was held in the country in May, 2018. Like elected congressional and local government officials, barangay and SK officials have three-year terms. Thus, incumbent barangay and SK officials in more than 42,000 barangays are mostly on holdover capacity.

The first time the BSKE polls were postponed by Congress was Republic Act (RA) 10952 to May, 2018. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the second postponement of the BSKE was from second Monday of May, 2020 to December 5, 2022 under RA 11462. If approved into law, Laudiangco cited, the holding of the BSKE is postponed for the third time.

This was why, Laudiangco explained, the Comelec had pushed back the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) for all those running in the BSKE from Oct.6-13 to Oct.22-29. “If vetoed, we can proceed with the filing of COCs,” Laudiangco cited.

He recalled no less than Comelec chairman George Erwin Garcia raised many other concerns during the deliberations of the BSKE bill at the Senate and at the Lower House all the way to the bicameral conference committee. However, Laudiangco quoted the Comelec chief assurances to the lawmakers that the poll body would abide by whatever the final decision on these issues and concerns expected with the latest postponement of the BSKE.

Garcia was among the first presidential nominees who got confirmed by the CA. A former election lawyer who had Mr. Marcos as among his clients in the past, Garcia asserted the Comelec will continue to exercise its independence and autonomy as a constitutional body.

Garcia welcomed yesterday at the Comelec head office in Intramuros the College of Law Dean of the University of Manila, Ernest Maceda whom PBBM appointed to the last vacancy in the poll body. Garcia also received in office Celis who brought his new ad interim appointment issued by PBBM. With the seven-man poll body now completed, it will have all the best minds to handle the BSKE if it will push through when vetoed.

Even if signed into law, Laudiangco revealed, the Comelec will have to undertake remedial guidelines on a missing provision to provide clarity that was not included in the Congress-approved enrolled bill. In particular, Laudiangco pointed to the validity of the COCs filed by SK candidates. Under the RA 10742, or the SK law, candidates must be at least 18 years old but not more than 24 years of age on the day of the elections can run for the local youth council body either as chairman or kagawad (council member).

He mentioned a proposal now being considered by the Comelec to reject outright the COCs of both over-aged or under-aged candidates for the SK polls. In 2018, he cited, the Comelec cancelled more than 6,000 COCs due to either being under-aged or over-aged as SK candidates.

For now, the Comelec could administratively cure these defects seen in the Congress-approved BSKE bill rather than it being vetoed. Since he took office, PBBM has vetoed five enrolled bills approved by the previous Congress, including the 20% increase of allowances of teachers and other persons who rendered services in elections.


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