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.