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Garcia: No longer viable to hold barangay, SK polls in December 2022

Commission on Elections Chairman George Garcia on Friday told the Supreme Court that the poll body could no longer hold the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) in December 2022.

During the SC's oral arguments on the petition challenging Republic Act 11935, Garcia said the Comelec has suspended the printing of the ballots for the supposed December 2022 BSKE upon President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s signing of the law resetting the local polls to October 2023.

"We suspended the printing of the ballots simply because the ballot does not reflect the date that the election will be continued, which will be on October 31 of next year, 2023, and if we are to count the number of ballots that had not been printed during this period from October 10 to the present, then if we are supposed to print the ballots 3 million per day, 12 days, then that will be about 36 million ballots, your honor," Garcia said during the interpellation of Associate Justice Antonio Kho Jr., who was a Comelec commissioner prior to his appointment to the High Tribunal.

"From now to the conduct of election by December 5, it's almost at least 44 days. Definitely, your honor, we'll not be able to finish printing the ballots," he added.

The Comelec chairman also informed the magistrates that they cannot proceed with the procurement of other election paraphernalia as there is already a law that postponed the December 2022 polls. Hence, there might be no legal basis for their purchases.

"Such other election paraphernalia, we have a legal issue and the legal issue is whether we can legally proceed with the procurement despite the postponement of the election," Garcia said.

He disclosed that the Comelec Law Department was already instructed to inquire and make a recommendation to the En Banc regarding the pending awarding of contracts and the notice to proceed.

"We do not want to violate any auditing rules and we do not want that COA will be giving notices to the commission as far as these awards are concerned," Garcia said.

"So we are in a dire predicament. So material time, we do not have [that] anymore. It is really not viable and feasible at this time," he added.

Garcia also mentioned that the poll body has already stopped its procurement for the indelible inks for the December 2022 BSKE as these may dry up after one year.

"We have been preparing for the procurement of indelible ink... However, indelible ink will be expiring [in] one year and so if we will proceed with the procurement of indelible ink even after the signing by the President on October 10 and there is already a law which says the election is postponed, then definitely by next year, all of these indelible ink [will be] dried up. Surely, we will not proceed with the procurement of the indelible ink," he said.

Veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who challenged the law postponing the 2022 BSKE, however, said that Comelec can push through with the polls in December, citing Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code.

"I don't believe, your honors, that the Comelec is not capable of proceeding with the elections," Macalintal said.

"Maybe not on December 5, your honors, but on a date close, very close to the date of the elections that is postponed because that is provided for under Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code, that while the Comelec may postpone, it has still to continue with the election on a date reasonably close to the date of the postponed election after the cessation of the cause for the postponement," he said.

Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code provides: "When for any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision, the Commission, motu proprio or upon a verified petition by any interested party, and after due notice and hearing, whereby all interested parties are afforded equal opportunity to be heard, shall postpone the election therein to a date which should be reasonably close to the date of the election not held, suspended or which resulted in a failure to elect but not later than thirty days after the cessation of the cause for such postponement or suspension of the election or failure to elect."

Kho then asked if Macalintal is asking the SC to prod Congress to pass another law that will set another date for the BSKE as the questioned law—RA 11935— does not provide for any other day except last Monday of October 2023.

Macalintal, in response, reiterated Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code.

During the interpellation of Associate Justice Mario Lopez, Macalintal asserted that the law does not prohibit the Comelec from fixing another date because of some circumstances beyond their control.

"December 5, 2022 elections could push through because it was not the fault of the Comelec that these delays were caused. It was the enactment of this law that prevented the Comelec from pushing through with this preparation or suddenly stop their preparation. In other words, the cause of the delays is because of the passage of the law," he said.

"Now, if this law is declared unconstitutional, then the people’s right to vote should be respected and how do we respect it if the Comelec is not ready on December 5, then the Comelec will be directed to set another date close to December 5 where a clean, honest, and orderly elections should be held," he added.

Macalintal added the terms of incumbent barangay and SK officials will end by December 31, 2022. Hence, the Comelec can still hold the elections by December 26 or close to the termination of their term of office.

At the latter part of the oral arguments, Lopez pointed out that Comelec's power to postpone polls under Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code is limited to the declaration of failure of elections due to the circumstances enumerated in the said provision.

"Therefore, the matter of postponement is not an original function or duty of the Comelec. It is simply a delegated authority by the legislature or the Constitution for that matter," Lopez said.

With the consistent statement of Garcia that they cannot push through with the December 2022 BSKE, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo instructed the Comelec to include in their memorandum the possible dates of elections should the SC issue a temporary restraining order on the implementation of RA 11935.—AOL, GMA News