Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr has signed into law an urgent measure to postpone the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections scheduled on Dec. 5 this year.

This was the fourth time since 2016 the elections for the basic political unit in the country were postponed, resetting it to the last Monday of October 2023, with the polls to be held every three years thereafter.

Lawmakers from both houses of Congress said they have to enact the bill to postpone the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) because the government needed the funds for programs including the coronavirus pandemic response as well as subsidies to poor families.

They also said the government could save money if the elections were reset for next year.

But does the government really need the money earmarked for the local elections for other purposes, like the coronavirus pandemic response? Can the government really save money?

It appears the lawmakers lied and the postponement of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections was done to honor a promise made in the May 2022 national elections to secure the support of local leaders for their own political victory.

The president also promised to barangay leaders to postpone the elections and extend their terms if they will help him win the presidency. Politicians running for seats in the bicameral Congress made the same campaign promise.

It’s like scratching each other’s backs. The postponement was payback time.

The coronavirus pandemic response was a very convenient excuse. It was used by Rodrigo Duterte to borrow billions of dollars from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank but some of the money went to corruption, like the procurement of substandard face masks and personal protection equipment from Pharmally.

The budget for the December elections cannot be touched and realigned for other purposes. It will stay with the Commission on Elections. In fact, it has already started printing ballots and bought election paraphernalia, using the money earmarked for the elections.

Last year, Congress gave the Commission on Elections (Comelec) an P8-billion budget to hold the elections. However, the executive branch cannot tinker with the Comelec’s budget for the elections because it has fiscal autonomy as an independent commission.

Unlike the executive and legislative branches’ annual budget, which will be returned to the national treasury, if the funds were not used, the Comelec could still use the unused 2022 budget next year as part of its continuing appropriations.

Comelec officials argued to lawmakers that postponing the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections would be more expensive. The Comelec would need an additional P10 billion to hold the elections next year because there would be more voters, more poll workers, more machines, and more ballots needed.

For instance, there will be about 100 million eligible voters by 2023. From 66 million voters for barangay leaders, four million voters will be added by October 2023.

From 24 million youth voters, there will be 30 million voters for the Sangguniang Kabataan elections.

The increase in voters will also multiply the number of teachers and other poll workers for the elections. More personnel means a much bigger allowance for election workers.

More ballots and other election materials will be needed. More automated counting machines will also be needed at a time when the Comelec planned to procure newer machines.

However, the election officials’ pleas fell on deaf ears as the executive and legislative officials were hell-bent on fulfilling their campaign promise to extend the terms of office of Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan officials for another year.

The elected officials ignored the Comelec’s pleas to push through with the elections in December even if they knew it would jack up the costs and the government had to tighten its belt because of the unfavorable economic conditions.

The Philippine peso is the worst-performing currency in the region and may hit P60 to a dollar, the lowest level in years. Inflation is nearing 7% and may continue to quicken until next year.

Foreign direct investments are also down as well as revenue collection, as many businesses closed shop during the pandemic. Unemployment is also rising.

Economists have been calling on the executive and legislative branches to exercise fiscal discipline but they continue to plan more spending for their own personal interests.

For instance, the lawmakers allowed Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio to have P650 million in confidential funds for the Office of the Vice President and the Department of Education.

She cannot clearly say where these confidential funds will go. The only excuse Sara’s office gave was that the money was for “libreng sakay,” medical and funeral assistance, and national security.

But these are beyond her mandate. She was duplicating the functions of other agencies, like the transportation sector and the social welfare and development and national defense departments.

It would be better if Sara’s office was allocated modest confidential funds of less than P10 million because the enormous amount of P650 million could go to education, health and safety net programs of the other departments.

Like the confidential funds, the additional P10 billion for the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections was a waste of government resources at a time when the country faces bleak economic conditions:

It is very insensitive for our national leaders to spend unwisely government resources for their own selfish political interests when millions suffer.

An election lawyer has petitioned the Supreme Court to declare the postponement of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections as unconstitutional, saying legislators cannot arbitrarily extend the terms of barangay officials.

They should be elected into offices under the Constitution. There is real danger that executive and legislative offices would in the future be given extensions if elections were postponed through legislation, depriving every Filipino of their right to choose their own leaders.

The Comelec has made assurances it can hold the elections if the Supreme Court declares the law postponing the elections illegal and unconstitutional.

The Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections had been pushed back four times. There is no more valid reason for another postponement. The government can save money if the elections are held as planned in December, not in October next year.

Enough with the lies, enough with selfish political interests. Think about the country’s best interests.