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Postponing barangay, SK polls won't save government money after all

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Lawmakers arguing that postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections slated for December would save money for the government were proven wrong Tuesday as Commission on Elections chairperson George Garcia said deferring the village and youth polls would actually cost around P5 billion more.

Despite this, the House of Representatives' suffrage and electoral reforms panel still approved in a 10-2 vote the postponement of the barangay and SK elections to December 4, 2023 from December 5, 2022.

At the hearing on the proposals, Garcia explained that moving the barangay and SK elections yet again means that the poll body will resume voter registration which will result in more voters and require more election paraphernalia and workers.

“If we are going to postpone the elections and increase the honorarium of poll workers, on the assumption that Congress will be kind enough to increase the honorarium, plus the expenses for the continuing registration, we need an additional P5 billion,” Garcia told lawmakers.

Garcia said that they aimed to register 29,088,496 voters for the barangay and SK polls but were only able to register 24,457,363. He said that if these elections are  deferred anew, they expect the remaining 4,631,133 to be registered as voters.

Following this revelation, some lawmakers admitted they were wrong to assume that deferring the village and youth polls would lead to savings.

“Kung ang main intention natin in postponing this election is makatipid, mali pala. P5 billion pala ang madagdagan pa sa atin,” Rep. Franz Pumaren (Quezon City) said.

(If our main intention in postponing this election is to save, that apparently is incorrect. We will incur P5 billion more in expenses.)

“We should not always say that if we postpone the election, we will be able to save,” Rep. Marivic Co-Pilar (Quezon City) said partly in Filipino.

RELATED: ‘House to pass bill deferring barangay, SK polls’

'Saving money isn't the point'

Other lawmakers, however, were not swayed and doubled down on their proposal to postpone the barangay and SK elections, although they swept aside concerns over costs.

“I think the issue of whether or not we will get to save will not be the primary issue. The primary issue will be number one, the will of the legislator. Number two, the desire of the public. And finally, considering that more than 38 congressmen filed this bill, that only shows the sentiment of Congress,” Rep. Elpidio Barzaga (Cavite) said.

Rep. Marvin Rillo (Quezon City) said lawmakers should look at the “bigger picture” as it is “premature” to say that the government stands to lose P5 billion more if Congress postpones the barangay and SK polls.

Garcia said they currently were allotted P8.449 billion for the village and youth elections, of which only P800,000 has been spent.

But the Comelec chairperson said the poll body would need direction from Congress as soon as possible as they would have to proceed with the printing of ballots and procurement of election paraphernalia soon. Unless directed by law, the poll body is mandated to prepare for elections even if there is talk of postponing them.

Garcia assured House members, however, that these materials would not go to waste as they would be used for the new date of the barangay and SK polls, should they be postponed.

He also appealed to Congress not to move the elections to 2024 as the poll body would be preparing for the 2025 midterm polls by then.

The Philippines has not held barangay and SK elections since 2018 and the officials occupying these posts — which are citizens’ first points of contact to the government — have been sitting for over four years.

Poll watchdogs stressed that it is important for the “long overdue” village and youth polls to continue in December as people have been deprived of grassroots participation in government.

READ: PPCRV opposes SK, barangay polls deferment

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