EXPLAINER. Comelec awaits word of House on holding special election in Cebu City north. Councilor Mabatid, who says she'll run for the seat vacated by del Mar, favors 2022 regular polls.

Pachico A. Seares
·5 min read

AT A GLANCE: [1] The law gives the Comelec the power and initiative to call a special election to fill the vacancy created by the death of Representative Raul Del Mar. But most likely, it won't call one, deferring instead to the wish of the House of Representatives.

[2] Sentiment of the House leadership leans towards electing del Mar's successor in the next regular election in 2022, as indicated by the appointment of the speaker, Lord Allan Velasco, last Wednesday, November 18 as caretaker of the district.

[3] Del Mar's family cited "the wish of the congressman and of his constituents" that Speaker Velasco be the caretaker. Del Mar was reportedly groomed to be one of Velasco's deputy speakers and scheduled to take his oath when struck with illness and hospitalized.

[4] Those who vie for the vacant seat also tend to favor only one election instead of two elections, one after the other within two years: the special election for del Mar's unexpired term and the next regular election when all seats in the House are filled. Expenses of the government and the candidates, as well as the energy for the campaign, would be doubled. Plus the uncertainty of public health crisis, which might still have Covid-19 raging in the first and second quarters of 2021.

COMELEC AUTHORITY. Under the Omnibus Election Code (section 4), "the postponement, declaration of failure of election, and the calling of special elections ...shall be decided by the Commission sitting en banc by a majority vote of the members."

Under Republic Act 6645 of 1987, once a vacancy occurs in the Senate or the House within the specified period and before the next regular election, Comelec "shall schedule" a special selection upon receipt of a resolution from the chamber where the vacancy would occur. Under this rule, Comelec would have to rely on the resolution from the Senate or the House, thus impairing the poll body's power under the Omnibus Election Code to decide the holding of a special election.

RA 6645 of 1991 corrected the defect by (a) doing away with the notice from the chamber where the vacancy occurred and b) fixing the date of the special election.

In the House, the vacancy must occur before one year before the term of the elected official expires. In which case, the election shall be held "not earlier than 60 days and not later than 90 days after occurrence of the vacancy." For del Mar's seat, the count will be from November 16 when he died.

In the Senate, if the vacancy occurs one year before the expiration of the senator's term, the special election shall be held on the day of the next succeeding regular election. In other words, it will go with the regular polls.)

FUNDING. Perhaps as courtesy to the chamber where the vacancy occurred, Comelec has been used to the procedure of waiting for the House (or Senate) resolution, which serves as official notice of the death, resignation or removal that created the vacancy.

Comelec Regional Director Rafael Olano, through Cebu provincial election officer Lionel Marco Castellano, said the commission en banc will wait for the official communication. Despite the amended law? "Maybe because of availability of funds" and the pandemic, Castellano told SunStar last Saturday, November 21. Or, in deference to the law, one may look at it this way: the word from the House will help Comelec en banc decide.

The special election costs money and, unless a lump sum for the contingency is provided in the general appropriation budget for the Comelec, the poll body must depend on funds from Congress.

"SAYANG KAAYO." Cebu City Councilor Prisca Niña Mabatid, who said she will run for the House vacancy in the north district, said the money spent on the special election could be used for "more important" expenses related to the campaign against Covid-19. "Life first before anything else," she told SunStar last Thursday, November 19. "Politics has no place when public safety or health is threatened." Mabatid preferred appointing a caretaker and putting off the elections.

One can serve the public whatever the position, Mabatid said. Apparently one can do that more effectively, for the public interest and one's own political aspiration, if there is a public emergency such as the current pandemic. A Mabatid supporter said the councilor has been doing more than many other elected officials to help constituents cope with the crisis.

That didn't always bring good to the councilor.

She has been accused, which she denies, of selling donated chickens as part of her retail business during the pandemic. Mabatid also allegedly tapped City Hall employees and vehicles to sell her foodstuffs and other goods. "All the smear" she has dismissed as politically-driven and will answer in the proper legal forum.

She is running for higher office in 2022 and she is set on going after del Mar's position in the House. She explained why last Saturday, November 21: "I will run...kay sayang kaayo akong mga programa and sayang sad akong leadership 'nya konsehal lang ko."

She told SunStar that in the City Council -- for which in 2019, under the Partido Barug-PDP Laban banner she ran and topped as #2 among eight councilors in the north district -- "di mo-ila ug maayong laki ka, ilahang style seniority. Babagan ka kong kusog ka... Pa-it kaayo."

SPECIAL ELECTION OR NONE, the next race in Cebu City's first district will be interesting to watch, even by people outside the island province.

The Del Mars have held, uninterrupted, the House seat for a total of 11 terms (spanning 33 years): nine terms of which by Raul (1987-1998; 2001-2010; 2013-2022); and one each by son Raoul (1998-2010) and daughter Rachel (2010-2013). Raul del Mar served 27 of the 29 years for which he was elected. He was a House deputy speaker from November 8, 2004 to June 30, 2010.