Concom to Congress: Stop talking ‘no-elections’ in 2019

Robertzon Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Concom to Congress: Stop talking âno-electionsâ in 2019
Opposing “no-el,” former senator and Concom member Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the midterm elections next year should not be postponed, to allay fears of the public over term extensions for President Duterte’s allies.
Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Members of the consultative committee (Concom) tasked to draft a new constitution yesterday urged lawmakers to stop discussing a no-election (“no-el”) scenario in 2019, noting its negative impact on the administration’s push to shift to federalism. 

Opposing “no-el,” former senator and Concom member Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the midterm elections next year should not be postponed, to allay fears of the public over term extensions for President Duterte’s allies. 

“I suggest elections will continue (because people suspect that) we are proposing federalism so that the elections can be postponed. It is not true, not at all,” Pimentel told The STAR.

Pimentel fears that people “will unnecessarily vote against the proposed federalization of the country” should Congress suspend the May elections.

What Congress can do, Pimentel said, is to set the date of the election within Duterte’s term and fast-track the review of the proposed charter.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III agreed last Thursday that “no-el” is possible, a few days after Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he is open to a postponement of the May 2019 polls, to focus on the draft federal constitution. 

While Alvarez’s argument is sound, Pimentel said it is “self-serving” for people who will benefit from the “no-el” scenario.

Another Concom member, Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, echoed Pimentel’s sentiments, adding that the cancellation of the elections next year violates the 1987 Constitution, which provides the tenure of office of elected officials.

“I am against (“no-el”),” Aquino said in a radio interview. 

Aquino claimed that “no-el” makes people nervous. Instead, lawmakers should study the federal constitution carefully, he said. 

“Don’t rush things. Go ahead as what the Constitution prescribes, but be engaged in studying the draft and dialoguing with constituents, hearing out their sentiments and their questions and helping them arrive at a position,” he told lawmakers. 

Should Congress fail to ratify the federal constitution, Aquino said the next Congress could re-introduce the matter, debate on the proposal and submit it to the people in a plebiscite. 

“If the goal is to be able to pass the constitution, there are things that can be done. Congress (can work) hard (and) see to it that there is a draft submitted to the people’s plebiscite before 2019,” he said. 

But former chief justice and Concom chairman Reynato Puno said they will wait for Congress to decide on the proposed federal charter.

Constitutional amendment

Sotto, however, yesterday clarified that in order for next year’s elections to be postponed, the Constitution must be amended.

He said Article VI Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution allows Congress to change the date of scheduled elections but not beyond the end of the terms of incumbent officials.

“If the amended date will be set beyond the term of office provided by law, (members of Congress) whose terms end at noon of June 30 cannot have a holdover capacity,” Sotto said in a message sent to reporters.

“Their term of office cannot be extended as an effect of the law changing the date of the election,” he added.

In his statement yesterday, Sotto said any move to extend the terms of legislators would have to be done through an amendment of the Constitution.

“?If the intention of changing the date of election is to extend the term of office of the members of both houses to afford them time to change the Charter (to federalism), then amendment to the Constitution must be made,” Sotto said.

While many are openly discussing amendments to the Constitution, including the proposed shift to a federal system of government, they have aired their reservations about doing this now when the leadership of the House has repeatedly taken the position that voting on the proposal would be done jointly with the Senate.

Almost all senators have rejected this position because it would result in their becoming irrelevant, because of the overwhelming numbers in the House.

Sotto said he intends to take up these issues with his colleagues in an all-senator caucus to be held before sessions resume on July 23.

“In the caucus we can get the pulse (of the senators),” he said.

Awareness campaign

For his part, administration lawmaker JB Bernos of Abra insisted that while term extension is inevitable in a “no-el” scenario, the government should focus on the shift to federalism.

“Now is the time to do it if we really are serious enough for the shift,” Bernos said, adding that the government must infuse the Department of the Interior and Local Government with funding.   

Bernos added that an intensive campaign to raise awareness on the federal system of government must be done.  

“While the machinery of the administration is clearly doing its job to push for a federal form of government, there is a need to double our efforts to sway the people’s perception (toward) the proposal,” Bernos said.

The Social Weather Stations has found a low awareness level among Filipinos on the proposed shift to federalism. Only one in four is aware of the proposal, while the others have only heard of it during the period the survey was conducted. 

SWS correlated the support for federalism to the people’s trust in Duterte, whose 2016 campaign included a promise to shift to a federal system to give more power to regions away from “Imperial Manila.” – With Marvin Sy, Artemio Dumlao





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