IN case you haven’t noticed, those at the forefront of the move to postpone this October’s barangay elections are incumbent elective public officials. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. They say they want to save money for the government but that’s only half the truth. The other half is that they want to spare their pockets, too.

These politicians have just been through the May national elections where they must have spent millions of pesos (at least P30 million for a congressman, between P5 and P15 million for town mayors, and many times that amount for a governor, according to my sources) in order to win.

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Only five months separate the May and October elections. That’s not enough time for the politicians to replenish their resources, if not recover their campaign expenses.

It wouldn’t have mattered to them if the barangay elections were non-partisan and cost-free. Alas, that is not so. Choosing the officials of the smallest government unit is now a highly partisan activity, a proxy war that is just as expensive to the handlers/principals as their own election.

That is why the handlers are asking for a reprieve. They know that their own political fortune is at stake. I’m sure they remember what happened to Tony Cuenco.

The then Cebu City south district representative went abroad during the last barangay elections. Although he claimed to have given money to BOPK candidates before he left, his absence at a time when they needed him most was counted heavily against him.

When he came back, he found out that he had lost the friendship of his staunchest supporter and ally, then mayor Tommy Osmeña.

But can the October barangay elections be legally postponed? A couple of days ago, a prominent Manila-based election lawyer was quoted in a news report as saying that it can’t be done without violating the Constitution, citing the case of David vs. the Comelec.

I went over the case (actually two cases that were consolidated) but I did not find that portion of the decision where it says that Congress cannot postpone the barangay elections.

In fact, although the petitions sought the postponement of the May 12, 1997 elections to the second Monday of May 1999, the question that the Supreme Court was asked to pass upon was not whether or not such a postponement is allowed by the Constitution, but whether the term of office of barangay officials is three years, as provided by the Local Government Code or five years as contained in an earlier law (RA 6679).

In ruling against the postponement, the High Tribunal said that the term of office of punongbayans and kagawads who were elected on May 9, 1994 was three, not five years because of the Local Government Code, citing a constitutional provision that says that barangay officials shall serve such term “as may be determined by law.”

That phrase can only be interpreted as giving Congress the right to reset a barangay election and extend the terms of the incumbent officials in a hold-over capacity until their successors shall have been chosen.

That takes care of the legal or constitutional question. But what about the moral side to the issue?

In the same David case, the Supreme Court denounced the petitions for postponement as “subtle but nonetheless self-serving propositions to lengthen governance without a mandate from the governed…If they want to continue serving, they must get a new mandate in the elections…”

I rest my case.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)