Senators to fight ‘no-elections’ initiative

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Senators to fight �no-elections� initiative
Senators also vowed to fight tooth and nail any people’s initiative to postpone the elections and extend the terms of elected officials, as proposed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.
Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — A proposal to scrap the May 2019 elections through any means – including people’s initiative – won’t fly, opposition lawmakers said yesterday.

Senators also vowed to fight tooth and nail any people’s initiative to postpone the elections and extend the terms of elected officials, as proposed by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

“Good luck to the proponents. A no-el (no elections) scenario will always be unpopular. The people want to have an election next year,” Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said.

He said the people’s initiative mode of proposing an amendment to the Constitution to scuttle next year’s polls would be an even harder sell.

“At this time, logistical and time constraints will not make it possible,” Erice said.

He noted that next year’s polls are just 10 months away.

A people’s initiative is the third method of proposing Charter change. It requires a minimum number of voter-petitioners from each congressional district.

The petition, which should contain the proposed amendment, would be submitted to the Commission on Elections, which should verify the identities, addresses and signatures of the petitioners. It is then submitted to the people for ratification.

Allies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tried this during her presidency in an attempt to shift the nation to a parliamentary system, but later abandoned it.

The other two modes of proposing Charter change involve Congress, which could either pass a law convening a constitutional convention or convert itself into a constituent assembly.

Former congressman Neri Colmenares, who chairs Bayan Muna, said talk of no-el and people’s initiative “shows the desperation of politicians especially those with their terms ending and those wanting a new lease on their political lives.”

“These politicians should stop undermining the will of the people in wanting to elect new government officials and junk those who are not serving the interest of the majority of their constituents,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said Alvarez may push for a people’s initiative, “but then it’s not a real people’s initiative but a Speaker’s initiative or political elite initiative.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon warned that Alvarez’s proposal, in the guise of giving Congress more time to work on proposed amendments to the Constitution, was actually meant to extend the terms of elected officials.

He said the people’s initiative as stated in Article 17, Section 2 of the Constitution is only for minor changes. Postponing the elections is already considered a revision of the Constitution, which fixed the terms of elected officials, he said.

“It’s clear to me the aim of their Charter change is meant to scrap the elections and extend the term of elected officials,” Drilon told reporters.

He said if Alvarez will insist on his proposal, the opposition bloc in the Senate will question it before the Supreme Court.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson reminded House leaders that even under a people’s initiative, the participation of the Senate is still required.

“It goes without saying, a majority of senators, even those running for re-election will fight tooth and nail any attempt to cancel the 2019 midterm elections simply because it is wrong and self-serving,” Lacson said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said while Alvarez can launch a people’s initiative, he might not have the time and government resources to complete it.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know why he seems so obsessed with postponing the election when neither the people nor the Palace supports such postponement,” Escudero said.

Even Alvarez’s ally, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, was not to keen on the proposal. Pimentel is president of the ruling PDP-Laban while Alvarez is its secretary general.

“He (Alvarez) should think of the matter carefully. That is too cumbersome a procedure hence time consuming plus the question if a law is in place which sufficiently implements people’s initiative,” Pimentel said.

Sen. Leila de Lima issued a statement from detention also opposing Alvarez’s plan, which she said was meant to pressure local officials to support the Duterte administration’s push for federalism.

“Speaker Alvarez’s floating of a no-el (no election) scenario in 2019 destabilizes our democracy, it projects uncertainty, especially at the local government level,” De Lima said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said public funds for a people’s initiative and plebiscite to extend the terms of sitting politicians “can be put to better use.”

For Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, the electoral process is “a fundamental tenet of democracy,” which is why it must push through as scheduled.

“It’s the period when the electorate is empowered to choose their own leader who they think best represent their beliefs and ideologies,” Gatchalian said.

Sen. Grace Poe pointed out that the people’s initiative route in amending the Constitution was also attempted during the Arroyo administration but did not succeed. – With Marvin Sy, Robertzon Ramirez, Mayen Jaymalin

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