SC Declares Unconstitutional Law Postponing Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections, Orders the Conduct of Elections in October 2023, Issues Guidelines for Validity of Rules Postponing Elections
June 27, 2023
The Supreme Court has declared unconstitutional the law which postponed the holding of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (BSK) Elections (BSKE), from its initial schedule of December 5, 2022 to the last Monday of October 2023, but recognizes the legal practicality and necessity of proceeding with the conduct of the BSKE on the last Monday of October 2023, pursuant to the operative fact doctrine.
In a Decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio T. Kho, Jr., the Court En Banc granted the consolidated petitions of Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal (Atty. Macalintal) and of Attys. Alberto N. Hidalgo, Aluino O. Ala, Agerico A. Avila, Ted Cassey B. Castello, Joyce Ivy C. Macasa, and Frances May C. Realino (Atty. Hidalgo, et al.) assailing the constitutionality of Republic Act No. 11935 (RA 11935), or “An Act Postponing the December 2022 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections, Amending for the Purpose Republic Act No. 9164, as amended, Appropriating Funds therefor, and for Other Purposes.”
In granting the petitions, the Supreme Court made the following salient points:
First, the Court declared that the free and meaningful exercise of the right to vote, as protected and guaranteed by the Constitution, requires the holding of genuine periodic elections which must be held at intervals which are not unduly long, and which ensure that the authority of government continues to be based on the free expression of the will of electors.
Second, the Commission on Elections does not have the power to postpone elections on a nationwide basis. This power lies with the Congress pursuant to (i) its plenary power to legislate, and (ii) its power to fix the term of office of barangay officials under Article X, Section 8 of the Constitution. As such, the Congress did not unconstitutionally encroach on the power of the COMELEC to administer elections when it enacted Republic Act No. (RA) 11935. Neither did the provision for “hold-over” capacity amount to an unconstitutional “legislative appointment.”
Third, the case has not been rendered moot to preclude the exercise by this Court of its judicial review power because RA 11935’s transgression on the people’s right of suffrage is continuing and did not cease upon the lapse of the December 5, 2022 election schedule. Thus, despite the intervening expiration of the previous election date, the case undoubtedly presents an actual case or controversy that justifies the continued exercise by this Court of its judicial review power.
Even on the assumption of mootness, the Court can decide the case, because grave violation of the Constitution attended the enactment of RA 11935. Another, the case calls for the resolution of a novel and unprecedented issue that affects the people’s right of suffrage at the grassroots level. Lastly, the constitutional issue raised under the circumstances surrounding this case is capable of repetition yet evading review and thus, demands formulation of controlling principles to guide the bench, the bar, and the public.
Fourth, RA 11935 violates the freedom of suffrage as it failed to satisfy the requisites of the substantive aspect of the due process clause of the Constitution.
The Court found that there was no legitimate government interest or objective to support the legislative measure, and that the law unconstitutionally exceeds the bounds of the Congress’ power to legislate.
The Court likewise lamented that the means employed by Congress are unreasonably unnecessary to achieve the interest of the government sought to be accomplished, and that the said means are unduly arbitrary or oppressive of the electorates’ right of suffrage. The Court underscored that the primordial purpose stated in the various bills presented in the Senate and House of Representatives sought the realignment of the budget allocation of the COMELEC for the 2022 BSKE to the Executive for the latter’s use in its projects cannot be done without violating the explicit prohibition in the Constitution against any transfer of appropriations.
The Court also ruled that the enactment of RA 11935 was attended with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. The Court said that the postponement of the 2022 BSKE by RA 11935 for the purpose of augmenting the Executive’s funds is violative of the Constitution because it unconstitutionally transgresses the constitutional prohibition against any transfer of appropriations, and it unconstitutionally and arbitrarily overreaches the exercise of the rights of suffrage, liberty, and expression.
The Court, nevertheless, clarified that in so ruling, it is not asserting its power over Congress; rather, the Court is simply enforcing and upholding the supremacy of the Constitution.
Fifth, the Court recognized the existence of RA 11935 as an operative fact which had consequences and effects that cannot be reversed nor ignored.
As such, the Court said that the pronouncement on the constitutionality of RA 11935 shall retroact to the date of its enactment, subject to the proper recognition of the consequences and effects of the said law’s existence before the instant ruling. It likewise held that the declaration of unconstitutionality of RA 11935 results in the revival of RA 11462, the law governing the BSKE prior to the enactment of the assailed act.
The Court also declared that the BSKE scheduled for October 2023 shall proceed. The Court, however, stressed that the term of office of the sitting BSK officials shall be deemed to have ended on December 31,2022, following the provisions of RA 11462, the law impliedly repealed by RA 11935. In the interim, the sitting BSK officials shall continue to hold office until their successors shall have been elected and qualified. This notwithstanding, the Court clarified that the continued discharge of functions by the sitting BSK officials in a “hold-over” capacity, following the provisions of RA 11935, shall in no way constitute as an unconstitutional “legislative appointment.”
The Court further ruled that the succeeding BSKE shall be held on the first Monday of December 2025 and every three years thereafter, pursuant to RA 11462, and that the Congress is not precluded from further amending RA 9164 (as amended), the law which provides for synchronized BSKE.
Finally, the Court found it imperative to set forth guidelines and principles for the bench, the bar, and the public as regards any government action that seeks to postpone any elections. The Court outlined the criteria as follows:
- The right of suffrage requires the holding of honest, genuine, regular, and periodic elections. Thus, postponement of the elections is the exception.
- The postponement of the election must be justified by reasons sufficiently important, substantial, or compelling under the circumstances:
- The postponement must be intended to guarantee the conduct of free, honest, orderly, and safe elections;
- The postponement must be intended to safeguard the electorate’s right of suffrage;
- The postponement must be intended to safeguard other fundamental rights of the electorate; or
- Such other important, substantial, or compelling reasons that necessitate the postponement of the election, i.e., necessitated by public emergency, but only if and to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.
- Reasons such as election fatigue, purported resulting divisiveness, shortness of existing term, and/or other superficial or farcical reasons, alone, may not serve as important, substantial, or compelling reasons to justify the postponement of the elections. To be sufficiently important, the reason for the postponement must primarily be justified by the need to safeguard the right of suffrage or other fundamental rights or required by a public emergency situation.
- The electorate must still be guaranteed an effective opportunity to enjoy their right of suffrage without unreasonable restrictions notwithstanding the postponement of the elections.
- The postponement of the elections is reasonably appropriate for the purpose of advancing a sufficiently important, substantial, or compelling governmental reasons.
- The postponement of the elections must be based on genuine reasons and only on objective and reasonable criteria.
- The postponement must still guarantee that the elections will be held at regular periodic intervals that are not unduly long.
- The intervals must still ensure that the authority of the government continues to be based on the free expression of the will of the electorate.
- Holding the postponed elections at a date so far remote from the original election date may serve as badge of the unreasonableness of the interval that may render questionable the genuineness of the reasons for the postponement.
- The postponement of the election is reasonably narrowly tailored only to the extent necessary to advance the government interest.
- The postponement must not violate the Constitution or existing laws.
The Supreme Court Public Information Office shall upload a copy of the Decision to the Supreme Court website once it receives the same from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc.