By Cathrine Gonzales | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — Aside from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), senators, his fellow congressmen, and even Malacañang rejected on Friday the call of Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo to defer the May 9, 2022 elections ostensibly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must not use the existing global health crisis as a ground to cancel and reschedule the elections as this would not sit well with the public,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
“The holding of elections is a public service that the government must ensure to deliver. The idea to postpone the 2022 elections, if and when it happens, presents constitutional challenges,” Roque added.
Roque pointed out that the Constitution “is clear on the fixed date for the national elections, which is the second Monday of May” and that “we still have sufficient time to prepare” since the next national elections is still 19 months away.
“We can learn from the examples of other countries, such as the United States, which will be holding an election later this year, on how they conduct polls during COVID-19 pandemic,” Roque added.
The Pampanga congressman made the call during a hearing on the budget of the Commission on Elections, but he later clarified that his remark was only a “last resort” option if there is still a pandemic.
Still, his suggestion drew bipartisan flak from the Senate and even the House of Representatives.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez also thumbed down proposals to postpone the elections, citing the constitutional provision that presidential and vice presidential elections should be held on the second Monday of May every six years and congressional and local elections every three years.
“The senators, [congressional] representatives and [local government] elective officials must all face the crucible of facing the judgment of our people in regular elections as mandated by our Constitution,” he said.
House Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate warned that proposals to postpone the 2022 elections may be used to prolong unscrupulous officials’ hold on power.
“This proposal clearly has no basis, as our national elections are set by the Constitution, and not even Malacañang, Congress or the Comelec can alter it without going against the mandate of the Constitution,” Zarate said in an online press briefing.
“There is really no noble objective to postpone except for the personal agenda of those pushing for it, and not really out of concern for the citizens,” said Gabriela Women’s Rep. Arlene Brosas.
Even President Duterte’s allies in the Senate rejected Arroyo’s suggestion with Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go insisting that the Comelec had enough time to address the public health concerns during elections.
“The government must ensure continuity of delivery of public services, including protecting [the] Filipinos’ right of suffrage even in times of crises,” Go said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III agreed with Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Panfilo Lacson that moving the May 2022 polls to another date would contravene the Constitution, which explicitly set the term limits of elected officials.
If the elections were postponed, Sotto said those who would stay in holdover capacity and others to be temporarily appointed in elective posts would only face legal and constitutional challenges.
Lacson said allowing elected officials to stay in office beyond their term without balloting would clearly flout the Charter.
“Thus, any discussion or debate on this issue is an exercise in futility, if not a waste of time and energy,” Lacson said. “At the end of the day, it is the Constitution that should guide all of us in this regard.”
Drilon said he was confident that senators would cross party lines in opposing attempts to postpone the next elections.
“We will oppose this vigorously in the Senate. I think the senators will not be swayed by any argument to allow the postponement of a national election,” Drilon said.
The Comelec itself issued a statement on Friday reiterating that the poll body sees no reason to postpone the elections as they are mandated by the Constitution.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll agency’s plans included the possibility of the pandemic still a threat by 2022. —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO, MARLON RAMOS, MELVIN GASCON AND JOVIC YEE