December 2022 Barangay, SK move unconstitutional; future postponements to be guided in new criteria—SC

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on June 27 that the law postponing the December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) to October 2023 is unconstitutional. 

In the decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Kho Jr., the Court granted the petition filed by several lawyers questioning the constitutionality of Republic Act (RA) 11935, which moved the December 2022 polls. The decision also outlined criteria for future postponements of elections, in light of several BSKE reschedules in the past.

Violating the right to vote, legislative powers

Besides ruling that the move infringed the constitutional right to vote, the SC found that RA 11935’s purpose of amending appropriations also violated the Constitution, which explicitly prohibits the legislative to make changes in the national budget. 

There was “no legitimate government interest or objective to support the legislative measure,” SC said.

House Rep. Richard Gomez and Sen. Chiz Escudero were among several lawmakers who argued last year that the P8-billion fund for the 2022 BSKE could be used for other government projects, such as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s planned rice programs.

The Court instructed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to proceed as scheduled with the October 2023 BSKE but also ordered the succeeding polls to be conducted in December 2025. This cuts the term of the next Barangay and SK officials to two years instead of three.

The SC emphasized the need to conduct regular elections “which must be held at intervals which are not unduly long.” Postponing elections in the future must primarily be justified by the intention to protect the right to suffrage, the Court added.

“Reasons such as election fatigue, purported resulting divisiveness, shortness of existing term, and/or other superficial or farcical reasons, alone,” are not enough to justify a postponement, SC ruled.

Postponement after postponement

The ruling comes after the polls were postponed five times since the enactment of RA 9164 in 2002, the law that synchronized elections for the barangay and SK. 

The last BSKE was held in May 2018, supposedly followed by another in May 2020 that was intended to reset the BSKE’s three-year intervals after several other postponements. But in 2019, then-President Rodrigo Duterte signed the rescheduling of the 2020 BSKE to December 2022. 

For lawmakers who supported the move, including senators ​​Imee Marcos and Bong Go, the delay was supposed to give officials more time to implement their projects. Barangay officials elected in 2018 were inadvertently kept in power for five years instead of just two. And before 2018, the last BSKE was held in 2010.

The repeated postponement of the local polls has constantly raised scrutiny over how it extends the tenure of local government officials. Election watchdog Legal Network of Truthful Elections said in a February forum hosted by DLSU’s Committee on National Issues and Concerns that it sees such moves as means for the national government to gain the support of local politicians.

Nash Laroya

By Nash Laroya

Tia Mozelle Medalla

By Tia Mozelle Medalla

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