Sen. Panfilo Lacson on Friday thumbed down proposals to postpone or extend the 2022 national elections, saying doing so is a violation of the Constitution.
“Just so it is clear, cancelling 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,” Lacson said in a statement.
“Thus, any discussion or debate on this issue is an exercise in futility, if not a waste of time and energy,” the senator added.
Lacson, likewise, reminded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that extending the May 2022 elections a day or two before or after the dates specified under the Constitution may face a constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court.
“This is not to mention valid issues and concerns involving the security of the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as also provided under the 1987 Constitution, as trending may occur if the ballots are not properly safeguarded,” he said.
He said the Constitution explicitly provides that the election for the members of Congress and local positions — except for barangay officials — occur every second Monday of every third year and that presidential and vice presidential elections occur every second Monday of May every sixth year.
Also under the Constitution, Lacson pointed out “elected officials, except those at the barangay level, start (and end) their terms of office on 30 June of the election year.”
“At the end of the day, it is the Constitution that should guide all of us in this regard,” the lawmaker stressed.
Senate president Vicente Sotto III said the proposal has very slim chances of being approved once it reaches the Senate, unless proponents could present constitutional solutions.
‘’The idea presents a number of 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 are fixed,’’ Sotto pointed out.
‘’But then again, the (coronavirus disease or COVID-19) pandemic could be well controlled by then,’’ he added.
Sen. Christopher ‘’Bong’’ Go, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, said postponing the scheduled 2022 elections ‘’should be a last resort.’’
‘’Para sa akin, dapat magawan ng paraan na maituloy ang eleksyon. Pag-aralan natin ang ibang alternatibong paraan gamit ang teknolohiya kung paano maisasagawa ang eleksyon sa paraan na malinis, may kredibilidad, naaayon sa batas, at ligtas para sa ating mga mamamayan,’’ Go said. (Measures should be adopted to ensure that the 2022 elections would be held as scheduled. With the use of technology, we should study alternative ways to ensure honest and credible elections based on current laws)
‘’We still have time to prepare. Let us also study best practices conducted in 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,’’ Go stressed.
‘’Habang ginagawa natin ang lahat upang malampasan ang krisis na ito, hindi dapat mapabayaan ang ibang serbisyo na dapat ibinibigay ng gobyerno, kasama na diyan ang karapatan ng taumbayan na bumoto,’’ he added. (While we are doing everything to hurdle the current health crisis, government services must be delivered to the people. And that includes their right to vote)
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said calls to postpone the national elections are part of a continued effort of some groups to ensure a “no-elections” scenario in the May 2022 polls.
“I am not surprised. This is the continued effort at a ‘no-el’ scenario,” Drilon said.
“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,” Drilon stressed.
Drilon, a former Justice Secretary, stressed the Comelec cannot postpone the holding of a national elections without the law being amended.
“Even if you postpone the election, the terms of the elected officials are set in the Constitution. Unless you amend the Constitution, you cannot extend the term of officials,” he said.
The senator also pointed out that though Congress can “theoretically” pass a law postponing the 2022 election, it would not extend the terms of office of the elected officials.
“You have to amend the Constitution. That is why there is always an effort to amend the Constitution because of the term limit…You cannot postpone the election in the hope that your term can be extended. To extend the term you need an amendment to the Constitution,” he explained.
Nevertheless, Drilon said he cannot see any justification on the need to postpone the election due to the pandemic.
“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.
“I am confident that our colleagues in the Senate will not agree to such a proposal,” he emphasized.
Sen. Imee Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation, stressed the need to proceed with the scheduled 2022 national elections.
Marcos pointed out that several countries have conducted elections during the current COVID-19 pandemic such as South Korea, Taiwan, Belarus, Singapore, Iceland, Poland, and in November, the United States.
‘’However, we should explore all possible scenarios: The three-day in-person recommendation of Comelec, expanded early voting, mail-in ballots and, even in select cases, livestream online voting,’’ she said.
‘’No doubt there are issues with every mode of voting, but the voice of the people must be heard,’’ she added.
Opposition Sen. Francis ‘’Kiko’’ N. Pangilinan said postponing the scheduled 2022 national and local elections is against the 1987 Constitution.
Pangilinan, a lawyer, said the COVID-19 pandemic is not an excuse to reschedule the holding of the elections.
‘’Hindi tayo tulad ng HK na hawag sa leeg ng China kaya naipagpaliban ang kanilang eleksyon,’’ he explained. (We are not like Hong Kong that is held on the neck by China that it could postpone their election)
‘’May mga paraan upang matuloy ang eleksyon at maproteksyunan ang kalusugan ng mga nais bumoto tulad ng gawing dalawang araw ang halalan para mabawasan ang dami ng tao sa voting centers. Maari rin ilipat ang botohan sa mga basketball court, sa mga plaza, mga gymnasium, convention center para mas maluwag at maipatupad ang social distancing,’’ he said. (There are measures to ensure the holding of the elections to protect the health of voters such as mandating a two-day voting to reduce the number of electorates at the voting centers. The voting could be held at basketball courts, plazas, gymnasiums and convention centers for spacious voting centers and social distancing is enforced)
‘’Ang Pilipino marunong gumawa ng paraan. Madiskarte sa harap ng mga pagsubok. Hindi dapat tayo maging inutil sa gitna ng pandemya,’’ he added. (Filipinos know of adopting measures. They are creative in the face of trials. We should not be held hostage by the pandemic)
Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo had earlier urged the Comelec to consider postponing the 2022 elections as voters are afraid of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas acknowledged it is up to Congress and President Duterte to decide whether or not to postpone the scheduled polls.
Abas said the poll body is looking at South Korea and the United States’ best practices on how to keep the elections safe during a pandemic.