I feel that this topic is a sensitive one. The constituents of the province of Benguet were saddened by the sudden death of Representative Honorable Nestor B. Fongwan Sr. Although the family of the late congressman and the people were still in grief on the demise of a beloved leader, the question on who should be the replacement is a matter that cannot be avoided for too long. People from all walks of life have been continuously asking the question: “sino ngay ti maisukat a kas congressman tayo?” Then came the news that ACT-CIS Party-list Congressman Eric Go Yap was appointed as “caretaker” for Benguet. Many were surprised about the choice. They were expecting that the caretaker be at least one of the congressmen from the Cordilleras. Yet others welcomed the appointment of Honorable Yap and urged the people of Benguet to support the appointed “caretaker”. But what really is the rule in cases of vacancy in Congress?
Our Constitution lays down the rule in cases of vacancy in the House of Representatives: “Article VI. Legislative Department. Section 9. In case of vacancy in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, a special election may be called to fill such vacancy in the manner prescribed by law, but the Senator or Member of the House of Representatives thus elected shall serve only for the unexpired term.” This provision of the Constitution mentions “in the manner prescribed by law”. This law is the Omnibus Election Code which governs the conduct of elections in our country and it provides: “Article 1. Sec. 7. Call of special election. – (1) In case a vacancy arises in the Batasang Pambansa eighteen months or more before a regular election, the Commission shall call a special election to be held within sixty days after the vacancy occurs to elect the Member to serve the unexpired term.” The “Batasang Pambansa” refers to Congress. The rule on special elections is reiterated in R.A. 7166 (Sec. 4) but states that the “the calling of special elections as provided in Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Omnibus Election Code shall be decided by the Commission sitting en banc by a majority vote of its members.” It further says that if the permanent vacancy shall be “at least one (1) year before the expiration of the term the Commission shall call and hold a special election to fill the vacancy not earlier than sixty (60) days nor longer than ninety (90) days after the occurrence of the vacancy”.
Hold a Special Election?
The last special election to fill a vacancy in congress was in 2012 in the 5th Legislative District of Negros. There are those who believe that no special election will be held in Benguet because it will entail much expense. It is my personal view that a special election should be held for the province because it is what our Constitution and laws provide.Those who are cold about the holding of a special election claim that Representative Yap should be given the chance to serve as caretaker and his ability should not be doubted. But that is not the point. The purpose of the government in spending billions of pesos to hold elections is to determine the will of the people. This flows from the principle: “sovereignty resides in the people” and the constituents of the province of Benguet should not be deprived of their prerogative to choose their own representative. The efficiency or ability of a caretaker cannot become the reason to deprive the people of the right to choose someone of their own to serve as representative in Congress. I have nothing against Representative Yap, he might be a great member of congress and his party should not also be deprived of his undivided attention as their representative by giving him an additional burden to serve as caretaker beyond the period provided by our laws.