Lacson-Sotto counterplan makes ‘No-El’ infeasible

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Firming up last August their presidential-VP run, Senators Ping Lacson and Tito Sotto scanned the political field. Murmurs were rife about No Election (No-El). Surging pandemic, assassinations, Comelec difficulties, could delay the May 2022 balloting. Plotters, insatiable for power and kickbacks, can use these to prolong themselves in office.

Constitutional crisis can erupt. Except for 12 of 24 senators, all others – President, VP, legislators, local officials – must step down on June 30, 2022. Holdover has no part in the basic law, not even on pretext of continuity of state services and staff salaries. Only the 12 senators elected in 2019 are to remain till 2025.

Sotto broached to Lacson a constitutional alternative. As Senate President (SP) he can convene the 24 members to replace him from among the 12 staying ones. That new SP can serve as the country’s interim leader till a president is elected. A new SP Pro Tempore can lead the legislature during the period. Central government can function. Crisis would be averted.

The SP as interim leader would be constitutionally stable. The 11 others would have no authority to remove him. A majority of at least 13 of the 24-strong Senate is needed to appoint its officers.

Sotto sought counsel from two retired justices. “Finding it feasible, they were amazed how we ideated it,” he told Sapol dwIZ Saturday. Sotto, first elected in 1992, is the most senior of present senators; he would have served 24 years by June. Lacson, first elected in 2001, will notch 18 years by then. Though not lawyers, they have mastered the Senate’s legal powers. That they are among the 12 departing senators negates any ulterior motives.

Lacson and Sotto refined the solution. Selection of the new SP shall be done before the mass step-down on June 30. It can be as late as the closing session after the May election, or as early as the penultimate one next month.

Current indications can dictate the timing. The Comelec has just junked a disruptive bid by a faction of the ruling PDP-Laban to reopen the filing of candidacies and postpone ballot printing. A reported hacking of Comelec computers is being verified. Shortage of flu, cough, cold medicines and COVID-19 test kits is worsening the Omicron wave. Scarcity of disaster relief funds is demoralizing victims of super typhoon in Visayas-Mindanao. Vaccinations have been set back anew. Election Day blackouts loom with Indonesia’s halt of coal exports, on which 60 percent of Philippine electricity depends.

Any one or combination of those can instigate No-El. Let alone terror bombings like those staged by Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 to presage martial law dictatorship.

The interim leader must be tough and prepared, independent-minded and publicly trustworthy, Sotto continued. That person must mobilize the armed forces and police for law and order. He may need to appoint temporary local officials and replace troublesome members in the old Cabinet. He must muster Supreme Court support. He must calm the nation and ensure elections the soonest.

Five senators fit the bill, Sotto said. He prefers two from among Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Bato dela Rosa, Bong Go, Lito Lapid, Imee Marcos, Koko Pimentel, Grace Poe, Bong Revilla, Francis Tolentino and Cynthia Villar.

Inopportune to identify the two this early. But Sotto has sounded them out, along with the 14 other colleagues who made him SP in 2018. “What I was wary of in making my choices was anyone who would overeagerly present him/herself,” he stressed. That would have been a red flag. “Both were taken aback” when he talked to them separately, “both apprehensively debated with me, and acquiesced only when convinced it was for the national good.”

No-El fears and ploys spike towards the end of presidential terms. Occupants of Malacañang and henchmen even fan loose talk. Lacson and Sotto’s presentation of a counter-plan should squelch No-El schemers – for now.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

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