House prepares 2019 'no-election' people’s initiative

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
House prepares 2019 'no-election' peopleâs initiative
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is pushing for a no-el (no election) scenario next year purportedly to allow the House and the Senate to focus on writing a new constitution for a federal system.
Boy Santos

Poll lawyer says 'no-election' unconstitutional

MANILA, Philippines — Leaders of the House of Representatives are apparently taking steps to launch a people’s initiative to legitimize and drum up support for the scrapping of the May 2019 midterm elections.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is pushing for a no-el (no election) scenario next year purportedly to allow the House and the Senate to focus on writing a new constitution for a federal system.

Alvarez has said a postponement would also mean an extension of the terms of incumbent officials.

In a statement, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said postponing the 2019 polls is “unconstitutional” as it would entail extending the terms of incumbent officials.

“It is not within the power of Congress to enact a law that will postpone the election and at the same time extend the term of office of any incumbent elective official to serve in a holdover capacity,” Macalintal said.

One of Alvarez’s deputies, Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu, urged his colleagues in Congress yesterday to amend and strengthen Republic Act No. 6735, which implements the provision of the Constitution on initiative and referendum.

The provision allows voters to directly propose an amendment to the Charter or enact, repeal or revise a law.

Abu said Congress should pass his Bill 5724 soon so the people could use the initiative and referendum mode for Charter change and legislation.

“Considering the paramount importance of the right of the people to directly propose amendments to the Constitution through the system of initiative under Section 2 of Article XVII, this bill seeks to fill in the insufficiency of RA No. 6735 and to come up with an enabling law sufficient enough to provide for the implementation of the exercise of such right,” he said.

He explained the approval of the measure “is a must to put into reality the Latin maxim ‘vox populi vox dei’ or ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God.’”

He added that his bill is consistent with a 1997 Supreme Court ruling finding the law not enough to carry out the Charter’s provision on initiative and referendum.

Abu pointed out that one deficiency of the law is that it covers only legislative propositions.

His bill includes constitutional amendments in the coverage of the statute.

It also details the mechanism for the conduct of an initiative or referendum on a petition for amendment or for the enactment, repeal or revision of a law.

It provides that the Commission on Elections, within 30 days upon receipt of a petition, shall determine its sufficiency and set the date of the referendum, which shall not be earlier than 60 days but not later than 90 days from the time the poll body declares such initiative as sufficient.

The measure authorizes the Comelec to promulgate the necessary rules and regulations.

It further provides that a petition for an amendment or enactment, repeal or a change in the law shall be approved by a majority of the votes cast, and shall take effect 15 days after its publication in a national newspaper.

Abu said his bill should be enough for a people’s initiative on any constitutional amendment or law.

The initiative mode is Alvarez’s Plan B in case the Senate does not agree to do away with next year’s elections through the passage of a law.

But even the enactment of a postponement law is apparently constitutionally questionable.

According to Sen. Francis Escudero, Congress could not postpone the balloting beyond May next year without violating the Charter.

As for a people’s initiative, it is too time-consuming and complicated that it would not be finished before the 2019 polls, opposition lawmakers said.

In questioning Alvarez’s “no-el” agenda, Macalintal said that while the Constitution provides that regular elections should be held on the second Monday of May, “this should  not contravene or run counter to the provisions of the Constitution specifically providing for the terms of office of elective officials.” The Constitution mandates six-year term for senators and three years for members of the House of Representatives and local elective officials.

Such interpretation of the law, Macalintal stressed, has already been affirmed in a previous Supreme Court ruling, particularly in the 1991 case of Osmeña vs. Comelec.

He said not even a people’s initiative could cancel the 2019 polls because, “like an ordinary law, it cannot violate what the Constitution provides, aside from apparent lack of material time to conduct an initiative.” – With Sheila Crisostomo

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