BSKE funds should be ‘preserved’ – Herrera

August 17, 2022 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 885 views

WITH the proposed postponement of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) gaining momentum in Congress, House Deputy Minority Leader Bernadette Herrera on Wednesday underscored the importance of “preserving” the funds intended for the exercise and ensuring its availability for the same purpose at a later date.

“Prudence dictates that in the event of postponement, the appropriation for this year’s BSKE should remain with Comelec [Commission on Elections] and continue to be available for the same purpose afterward,” Herrera said.

Some of the principal authors of the various measures postponing barangay and SK elections are Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman and Deputy Speaker and Pampanga Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales

“The money to be saved from postponement could be used for other purposes, such as for COVID-19 pandemic response and financial aid to the poor,” Gonzales said.

Herrera issued the statement following the assurance from the Comelec that no public funds would go to waste if the BSKE scheduled in December this year were postponed anew.

Last Tuesday, the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral reforms approved a proposal to postpone the BSKE scheduled on December 5, 2022 to December 4, 2023 – believing it would help the government save a lot of money that can be diverted to financial aid for the poor and beef up the country’s COVID-19 response.

According to Comelec, the budget for the BSKE is still in its coffers and remains unspent except for a very minimal amount.

The appropriation for the 2022 BSKE amounts to P8.441 billion, of which P1.045 billion is for personal services (PS) and P7.397 billion is for maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE).

Herrera noted that the allotment for BSKE has already been released to Comelec, and the incurrence of obligation is currently ongoing.

The poll body, she said, will continue its preparatory activities for the BSKE until the enactment of a law deferring the conduct of the elections to a later date.

“Thus, if the postponement is to be pursued, it should be done immediately to avoid expenses that could result in wastage like the printing of ballots,” Herrera pointed out.

“However, it should be noted that in case of postponement, there is a possibility that the original P8.441 billion budget will no longer be sufficient for the eventual conduct of the BSKE because of inflation and the increased number of registered voters,” she said.

Herrera advised Comelec to realign any unused PS funds for BSKE under the 2022 General Appropriations Act (GAA) to MOOE and capital outlays to make it available even in 2023.

She, however, explained that such realignment must be subject to General Provision No. 68 of the 2022 GAA on cash-based budgeting.

“Also, Congress must provide a line item appropriation for the conduct of BSKE in the 2023 GAA to cover any deficiency,” Herrera added.

The lady lawmaker said this may also include an additional appropriation of P5 billion for the increase in poll workers’ honoraria and operating expenses due to increased registrants.

At the same time, Herrera explained that the unobligated allotments or savings from the postponement of BSKE could not be realigned for the stimulus package requirements because of the prohibition against cross-border transfers of appropriations.

“It should be noted that the Comelec, an independent constitutional body, enjoys fiscal autonomy as spelled out in Section 5, Article IX of the 1987 Constitution,” Herrera stressed.

She, however, said the cash programmed to support the BSKE may be freed up and used to fund the stimulus package, provided there will be a supplemental appropriations bill originating from the House and supported by a certification by the National Treasurer that funds are actually available.

The last barangay and SK polls were held in May 2018, giving current officials a term beyond the usual three years.

In 2020, then President Rodrigo Roa Duterte signed Republic Act 11462, postponing the BSKE originally scheduled on May 10, 2020. The next BSKE is scheduled for December 5, 2022.