April 16, 2024

■  Hanna C. Lacsamana

The Sangguniang Kabataan of 77 barangays in Baguio that either do not have officials or do not have a quorum for having incomplete officials after the barangay and SK elections last year cannot perform  their official duties and functions pending the issuance of the guidelines for the conduct of special elections to fill up the vacant positions.

The Commission on Elections Baguio shared this predicament of the city’s SK Federation as well as many other similarly situated barangays nationwide, as it awaits the Comelec en banc to issue the guidelines for the conduct of special elections.

Data from the Comelec showed there are 16 barangays in the city without any candidate, two without SK kagawad, and 58 cannot constitute a quorum.

Speaking before the city council session on Feb. 26, City Election Officer, Atty. John Paul Martin said under the implementing rules of Republic Act 11768 which amended RA 10742 or the SK Reform Act of 2015, the Comelec is tasked to craft the guidelines on the conduct of special elections.

The law also tasks the National Youth Commission and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to draft the guidelines for the filling up of vacant positions.

However, the Comelec and the DILG are still threshing out some issues before coming up with the guidelines.

Among the issues is where to derive the budget for the special elections, since in the national expenditure program of the Comelec, there is no provision for the conduct of special elections for SK.

Further, the conduct of special elections is not among the list of specific activities of SK which it can allot funds.

“And this is not only the concern of Baguio City. This is a nationwide concern. Marami rin nationwide ang mga walang SK, so of course it really affects the leadership of the SK federated president because the official cannot transact business without a quorum,” Martin explained to the council.

He committed to the city’s SK Federation President John Rhey Mananeng that he will follow up the concern from the Comelec main office in acknowledgment of the urgent need to fill up the vacant positions especially since SK officials are serving only until December 2025.

Mananeng has asked what remedies concerned SK bodies may have to be able to push through with their functions pending the issuance of the special elections guidelines, since their youth constituents are counting on projects and programs that cannot be implemented due to the absence of a quorum and which cannot always depend on solicitations, donations, and proceeds from fund raising activities for not having been allotted budget.

Responding in his personal capacity because the issue is not part of Comelec’s mandate, Martin cited Section 5 of RA 11768, which provides the mayor of the concerned barangay without or lacking SK officials shall appoint an officer in charge from a list of three nominees as submitted by the SK members.

“Maybe we could exploit that possibility of appointing in the meantime OIC members para po mag-work ‘yung sanggunian. But ang issue na naman po is ‘yung budget. Saan kukunin yung honoraria ng mga OIC or are they even entitled to any form of renumeration? Ito na naman ang magiging issue pending the conduct of special elections,” Martin said, stressing this opinion does not represent that of the Comelec.

He added the guidelines followed in the conduct of special elections in 2018 cannot apply this time, because the SK then was governed by RA 10742 which was amended in 2022 through RA 11768, which governs the current SK.

He said in the previous concern, special elections were indeed held but it was conducted by DILG, and the same was invalidated because under the law, Comelec should conduct the special elections for SK under the SK Reform law as amended under RA 11768.

Councilor Fred Bagbagen has considered as bleak the plan to still conduct special elections, as he pondered on the possible reasons why certain barangays in the city do not have SK officials.

“Maybe we have to look deeper into the problem of why there were no candidates who ran for SK positions, especially so the City of Baguio is an educational center. Maybe these people, most of them are students, would like to prioritize their studies more than engaging in politics. So are you saying you will still conduct the special elections?” Bagbagen said.

Martin said they will still conduct the special elections once the guidelines are issued, since the Comelec implements what that law has provided.

“The SK Reform Law is explicit that to fill up vacancies where no SK has been elected or there is no quorum, we will conduct special elections, regardless of whether (or not) there are candidates for that positions,” Martin said.

He assured that once the Comelec issued the guidelines, he will discuss with the city SK federation and work on conducting the special elections right away.

The city council has referred to the DILG secretary through the DILG city director the matter as well as the possibility of appointing OIC SK officials per barangay for study.