By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
In an apparent about-face, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said a “no-el” or no-election scenario might happen in 2019 to prioritize the discussions on the government’s shift to a federal system.
Sotto retracted Thursday his stand on the idea pushed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to postpone the May, 2019 midterm elections to pave way for the review of the proposed draft federal constitution and the smooth transition to federalism.
In a briefing with reporters following the Consultative Committee’s (ConCom) turnover of its draft federal charter to the Senate, Sotto said the 1987 Constitution need not be amended to defer the national elections.
“I would like to apologize, that indeed what I mentioned earlier, Article 6, Section 8 of the Constitution says that the regular election for senators and members of the House of Representatives shall be held on the second Monday of May, but I forgot there was a liner for that: ‘Unless otherwise provided for by law,’“ Sotto said.
“Therefore, we do not need a plebiscite to postpone the elections. A law, by both houses of Congress, may be able to postpone (the elections). So I stand corrected,” he said.
Asked if the Senate would approve a measure that would postpone the elections, Sotto answered: “Possible, if it is indeed necessary.”
“Kung gusto talaga naming magawa kaagad, siguro ‘yon ang kailangan (If we want to work on federalism as soon as possible, maybe that is what we have to do),” he added.
Sotto, however, clarified that members of the Upper Chamber have to agree with it. He said they are yet to discuss and review the Con-Com’s proposed constitution. He also noted that they have to settle issues on how to vote on Cha-cha.
Anyway, he said the shift to federalism can still push through even with the conduct of the 2019 elections. He said he is “hopeful” that they will be able to discuss the Duterte administration’s federalism platform within this year.
‘Law applies to date, only’
While he has yet to receive a copy of the draft charter, Senator Francis Escudero, thumbed down the deferment of the midterm polls as he maintained that it requires the amendment of the 1987 Constitution.
In a separate press briefing also Thursday, Escudero, a lawyer, raised doubts on how proponents of the “no-el” scenario would be able to make it possible, even with an enabling law.
“I believe that you cannot legislate that because it is clear in the Constitution that the term of a congressman is three years and there should have an election every three years,” he said in Filipino, citing also Article 6 of the present charter.
“Senators have a six-year term, and there should have an election every three years for the 12 members of Senate,” he added.
Escudero argued that the national and local election is not the same as barangay election which may be held off by law, like what was approved previously.
The condition Sotto had stated, according to Escudero, only applies to the date which the election should be held. Term limits cannot be changed by legislation, he said.
Aside from Escudero, Sen. Grace Poe also opposed plans to cancel the May, 2019 elections as she expressed confidence that the Senate, and the public, will not approve such move.
“The Constitution specifically states when we are going to have the elections and 2019 is certainly an election year. You can probably amend the Constitution but even if you do, you need the Senate vote,” Poe said in a television interview Thursday.
“There’s the Senate that he has to deal with,” she maintained, referring to Alvarez.
Sotto said he will call for an all-senator’s caucus to discuss the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution, including the draft federal charter, before President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 23.