AMID internet chatter and broadcast talk, mostly laudatory to the deceased, one day after Cebu City north district congressman Raul del Mar died Monday, November 16 in a Manila hospital, there was already some talk about whether his vacant seat would be filled by special election. It would seem that political conversation is not deemed disrespect for the dead; "it goes in sync with the cycle of life," a City Hall watcher says.
TWO DEATHS. It's not often that a national legislator could not finish his term. Records tell us that from Cebu, only five congressmen, including del Mar, did not serve fully the period for which they were elected. The last vacancy occurred 15 years ago in Cebu's 5th district.
And only two vacancies were caused by death. Aside from del Mar, the other local legislator who died was Nicolas Rafols in Cebu's sixth district, of the 1st Congress. Manuel Zosa won the special elections held on November 11, 1947, or 73 years ago.
The other House members whose terms were cut off:
-- Eulalio Causing of the 7th district, the 3rd Legislature, who resigned. Tomas Alsonso won the special election on November 21, 1914.
-- Filemon Sotto of the 3rd district, the 4th Legislature, who was elected senator. Vicente Urgello won the 1916 special election.
-- Joseph Ace Durano of the 5th district, who was appointed tourism secretary. Ramon Durano VI filled his seat after winning the May 30, 2005 special election.
WHEN THE SPECIAL POLLS. The law, Republic Act (RA) 6645 of 1987, set the condition for special elections for vacancies in Congress. That law was amended by RA 7166 of 1991 and the amended rules will apply in the Del Mar vacancy.
The law's condition is that the vacancy in the House must occur "before one year before the expiration of the term" of the elected official whose office is vacant. (In the Senate, if the vacancy occurs one year before expiration of the senator's term, it will be filled in the next regular election.) Meaning, in the Del Mar case, the office must be rendered vacant before June 30, 2021. That's 226 days away from November 16, when the vacancy occurred.
Under the amended law, Comelec is required to conduct the elections not earlier than 60 days nor later 90 days after the vacancy occurred -- or not before January 15, 2021 but not after February 14, 2021. Small wonder some people are already talking about the next political race in the city.
The change in the rule, followed by Comelec since 29 years ago, is that the count for the special polls starts from date of vacancy, not from date of the resolution of the chamber where the vacancy occurred.
ELECTION MAY BE SCRAPPED in special elections if there is only one candidate. RA 8295 of 1997 introduced the change. The rule in regular elections is that the balloting and counting are still done even if the sole candidate has no competition.
If the condition provided by the law is not met and thus the Comelec does not call any special election, the House speaker may appoint a caretaker legislator for the "orphaned" district.
Even before the election of a replacement House member, a caretaker may also be named, from a neighboring district; maybe Representative Bebot Abellanosa of Cebu City south or Representative Enmarie "Lollipop" O. Dizon of adjacent 6th district.