THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) welcomes the possibility of postponing the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections next year but hopes that Congress will pass the legislation in three weeks time.

"At least mabigyan kami ng indication na ma-postpone para we will not go into necessary preparations and expenses. Pero kung nakabitin tayo, tuloy pa rin preparations," said Comelec Chairman Jose Melo in an ambush interview.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

The poll body, however, reiterated its preparedness to conduct the manual polls for the election of new village and youth officials this October.

But the Comelec dismissed the possibility of synchronizing the village polls with the local and national elections in 2013 because of its costs.

Considering the clustering of precincts at 1,000 voters per precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine, the minimum cost is estimated at 22 billion pesos.

But since the major problem during the last elections was the long lines of voters, the poll body may cut the maximum number to 600 thereby further increasing the cost to 28 billion pesos with the utilization of more poll machines.

Comelec officials met with the members of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms Wednesday to discuss the possible deferment of the village polls with 21 bills and two resolutions still pending in the committee.

All the pending bills will be consolidated into one to agree on the date of the conduct of elections if it will be postponed. The next committee hearing on Monday will tackle the consolidated bill.

Poll officials were also asked to submit a position paper on the difficulties the poll body may encounter if the polls are deferred to 2011.

Committee members raised the possibility of realigning the funds left for the village polls to other projects if the postponement will push through.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) reported in the hearing that out of the P3.4 billion budget, P3.2 billion is still available to be spent by the Comelec although the funds are released in a monthly basis.

Representative Gabriel Quisumbing (sixth district, Cebu), who earlier filed a bill seeking for the postponement of the elections, said the October polls will only worsen the destroyed alliances in the last May elections.

"Should the village polls push through this year, it will further divide our nation," he added.

Quisumbing wants the 3.2 billion funds to be used for social services like education and health care.

Representative Anthony Golez (lone district, Bacolod City) also stressed the same argument during the national and local elections.

"The 15th Congress is just commending to draft its legislative agenda...and then we will again be confronted with the usual characteristics of another election," he said in the committee hearing.

House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman said Congress should not be swayed by the position of President Benigno Aquino III to push through with the village polls in October because the legislative body holds the power to amend the laws.

"It would be treason against the House or anyone who advocate that just because the President wants to push through with the election, we stop the legislation," Lagman noted.

Representative Rufus Rodriguez (second district, Cagayan de Oro) urged Aquino to change his position on the matter and instead also propose the postponement.

Sherwin Gatchalian, president of the League of Cities of the Philippines, and Rico Echiverri, president of the Liga ng mga Barangay, stated in the hearing that they also favor the postponement of the polls.

"Our league believes that whatever funds are available for the barangay polls could instead be used for government priority programs," Echiverri said, referring to the water shortage in Luzon, the recent electricity problems in Mindanao and the much-needed equipment upgrade of the country's weather bureau.

While Comelec is also open to the realignment of the funds, Melo prefers that it be used for election-related activities as the law prescribes.

Representative Karlo Nograles (first district, Davao City) recommended that the funds be used for the biometrics technology to be used as a tool in helping cleanse the list of voters.

Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal explained that out of the 50.7 million registered voters last May elections, more than 30 million were already covered by the biometrics technology.

SK abolition

SK National President Jane Cajes, meanwhile, appealed to congressmen not to push for the abolition of SK council as Aquino prefers.

The President earlier said that he wants the SK council to be abolished and instead have just one representative for the youth sector to participate in the barangay council.

Cajes explained that there was no need to abolish the council who are basically volunteering their service since they do not receive any pay from the government.

The lawmakers are also looking into the possibility of widening the number of participants by adjusting the age bracket to 15-21 years old. SK officials meanwhile should be aged 18-21.

So far, no bills have been filed in Congress pushing for the abolition of the SK council.

Not soon for poll protest

Meanwhile, the poll body admitted that it would be impossible to complete the recount on the electoral protest filed by former Environment Secretary Lito Atienza against Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim in one month.

Poll Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said: "Honestly, it's difficult. It will start siguro within the month pero I don't think we can finish it in a month."

Last Monday, Atienza's legal counsel, Donna Ramos, expressed hopes that their decision to pay the close to P10-million fee in full would pave way for the swift resolution of the case.

Ramos said they are hoping that the case would be resolved in a month's time.

But Comelec spokesman James Jimenez pointed that resolving the electoral protest could be possible if Lim would not be posing any opposition.

"Yung envisioned nila na recount ay isang straight recount lang na walang magmo-motion, matatapos yun but yung sa realidad medyo mahirap," said Jimenez.

On the other hand, Larrazabal said they already started the process of preparing for the recount by ordering the retrieval of all the 1,441 Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines used in Manila.

"As soon as all the ballot boxes are brought to us (Comelec Main Office), we have to conduct a hearing determining the schedule and the possible scanning of the ballots," said Larrazabal.

Preparation for the recount proceedings also continued in the Intramuros head office of the commission as the Comelec First Division ordered the creation of no less than 10 recount committees.

"The Clerk of the First Division, lawyer Leah Angeli Vasquez-Abad, is hereby designated as the overall chairman of the Recount Committees and shall supervise the entire recount proceedings," said the Comelec First Division's Preliminary Conference Order.

Atienza filed the protest accusing Lim of massive irregularities and errors in canvassing and counting during the May 10 polls. Lim garnered 395,910 votes while Atienza scored 181,094 votes. (Kathrina Alvarez/MSN/Sunnex)