Constitution  effectively blocks  poll postponement

Published September 28, 2020, 4:18 PM

by Manila Bulletin

It’s  still  15 months  before  the  presidential  election on May 9, 2022,    but  some politicians are already talking  of postponing  the election. This has happened  in  the past as the sitting president  neared the end of his/her term,  as if hoping the  term, with all its powers and privileges,  could somehow  be extended.

It is easy enough to postpone an election.  Congress can do it by passing a law. The  problem  is that  the terms of office are fixed, not  by law, but by  the Constitution.  A  sitting  president  may succeed in postponing an election,  but he cannot remain in office because  of this constitutional provision: “The President  and the Vice President  shall be elected by  direct vote of the people for  a term of six years which shall begin at noon on the 30th day of June following the day of the election and shall end at noon of the same date six years thereafter.” (Section 4, Article II)

In  some  previous  administrations,  there were attempts  to amend the Constitution  as the presidential  term neared its end.  Various  reasons  were  given  for the move, including the need to  open  the country to more foreign  investments.  But none of the attempts  succeeded.

This time, the  proposal  to postpone the  presidential  election is being  made   on the ground that voters  should not be massing on election day because of the  ongoing COVID-19  pandemic.  The Commission  on  Elections  is  even  now  studying such measures as  voting in big spaces like school gyms, instead  of small classrooms, to maintain physical distancing.  Health protocols such as  wearing  face masks,  face shields, and physical distancing  would be enforced.

But   the  ongoing  pandemic  is not  enough  reason  to stop an election. Over 30 nations have held elections since the start of the pandemic and another 20 more are due to hold theirs in the next few months. The United States,  the  worst  hit among the nations of the world,  is holding its presidential  election  on  November 3, only about a month  from  today. The pandemic  was  never considered  a   reason  to cancel the  elections in all these countries.

Fortunately,  no  important  official  in our country has picked up the idea of poll postponement.  Opposition  Sen.  Franklin Drilon said it could  be a prelude to the main objective of extending the terms of members of  Congress  and other elected officials.

Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, a close  aide of President Duterte before his election to the Senate, said measures should  be adopted o ensure  that the 2022 elections  are held.  “We  still   have  time  to prepare,” he said. “The  government  must  ensure continuity  of delivery  of public services, including protecting  Filipinos’ right  of suffrage, even in times of crises.”

But it is the Constitution  that  effectively blocks any  effort  to postpone  the 2022 election – the constitutional  provision that fixes the terms of the president, vice president, senators, congressmen, and  local officials. Unless the Constitution is first amended, no official, from the president down, can remain  in  office  the second  their terms expire.