Senators nix ‘unconstitutional’ proposal to postpone 2022 polls

MANILA, Sept 25 (Mabuhay) — Several senators on Friday rejected the proposal to postpone the 2022 elections despite the COVID-19 situation in the Philippines, saying the Constitution must be upheld.

This was after House Deputy Majority Leader Mikey Arroyo inquired on the possibility of deferring the upcoming polls during the deliberations on the 2021 budget of the Commission on Elections on Thursday.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the idea is marred with “controversial and unconstitutional issues.”

“To name a few—who will hold over their positions? If not, who will appoint their replacements? The tenure of elected government officials is fixed,” he said in a message to reporters.

Senator Panfilo Lacson, meanwhile, said the debate on the issue is futile, if not a waste of time and energy since such postponement of elections is not permitted by the Constitution.

“Canceling or postponing the election to pave the way for the extension of the terms of office of the President, Vice-President, 12 senators, district representatives as well as elected local government officials beyond June 30, 2022 is a clear violation of the Constitution,” he said.

Unsurprising

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, in an interview on CNN-Philippines, said he was not surprised that the postponement suggestion was raised.

“This is the continued effort at a no-el scenario. The postponement could be a prelude to the main objective of extending the terms of members of the members of Congress and the elected officials. That is not feasible,” said Drilon, who drew the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte in the latest State of the Nation Address.

“You cannot postpone a nationwide election without the law being amended. Presently, the Comelec can only postpone an election in a political subdivision, meaning the provinces, cities or municipalities, and there must be a showing that there is a serious cause of postponing the election such as violence, terrorism or destruction of election paraphernalia and the cause must be so serious that such nature that the holding of a free and honest election is not possible,” he added.

Drilon pointed out that even if the Comelec becomes empowered to defer the national elections, the terms of incumbent elected officials cannot be extended, unless the Constitution is amended, too.

“I cannot see any justification on the postponement of the election. We will oppose that vigorously in the Senate. I think the senators will not be swayed by any argument to allow the postponement of a national election,” he added.

Ensure safe 2022 elections

Senate committee on electoral reforms Imee Marcos likewise said the national polls must take place as scheduled on May 9, 2022.

“After all, several countries have conducted elections during this pandemic — South Korea, Taiwan, Belarus, Singapore, Iceland, Poland and, and in November, the United States,” Marcos said in a statement.

Nonetheless, she said the government must be open to exploring other possible election scenarios such as three-day in-person voting, expanded early voting, mail-in ballots, and online voting, among others.

On the other hand, opposition senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said, the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as an excuse to cancel the next elections.

“Hindi tayo tulad ng Hong Kong na hawak sa leeg ng China kaya naipagpaliban ang kanilang eleksyon. May mga paraan upang matuloy ang eleksyon at maproteksyunan ang kalusugan ng mga nais bumoto… Ang Pilipino marunong gumawa ng paraan. Madiskarte sa harap ng mga pagsubok,” Pangilinan said.

Polling venues may be transferred to open areas such as basketball courts and plazas, he suggested.

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, chair of the committee on health, also believes the government still has time to prepare and learn from best practices of other countries.

“Postponing the elections should be a last resort. The government must ensure continuity of delivery of public services, including protecting Filipinos’ right of suffrage, even in times of crises,” he said.

For its part, the Comelec said it sees no need to postpone the 2022 polls even if the COVID-19 pandemic still lingers by that time. (MNS)

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