By Gabriel Pabico Lalu | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — A poll watchdog and an election lawyer have insisted that even the COVID-19 pandemic is not enough of a reason to suspend the 2022 Presidential Elections, adding that it may be premature to talk about such measures.
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal said in a statement on Friday that the law states that an election can only be postponed if there is lawless violence, terrorism, or destruction of election paraphernalia, all which would make it impossible to conduct suffrage.
“Our law is very clear that elections could only be postponed in case of violence, terrorism or destruction of poll records which would make it impossible to conduct a clean and credible election. Thus it is still very premature to think of postponement of polls with about one and a half years before the election,” Macalintal explained.
However, he also stressed that it is confusing why some sectors may consider the postponement of the next elections, as it would belie President Rodrigo Dutere and the administration’s claim that the country is winning against the health crisis.
And given that there are still almost over 20 months before the May 2022 polls, the administration should be able to figure things out, that is, if it is beating COVID-19. Instead, he urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to observe the upcoming United States elections and point out possible scenarios in 2022.
“The reported call to postpone the May 2022 election due to COVID-19 runs counter to President Duterte’s claim that the government is doing its best to address the pandemic and his call not to believe the critics of the administration,” Macalintal noted.
“Perhaps the government especially Comelec can observe closely the forthcoming November US presidential election which will be held despite the pandemic where the US is one of those greatly affected by the virus w close to 7M confirmed cases of COVID-19,” he added.
Talks of possibly postponing the 2022 polls came after Pampanga 2nd District Rep. Mikey Arroyo asked Comelec whether it has a “Plan B” for the 2022 elections amid the ongoing health crisis. He also asked Comelec whether it has considered postponing the polls — something that did not sit well with a lot of parties.
The idea of suspending an election did not sit well with other lawmakers and officials including the Senate’s opposition bloc, while even Malacañang has shot down such talks. In his defense, Arroyo clarified that such measures would only be a “last resort” option in case the coronavirus pandemic gets worse.
According to the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), it is possible that the 2022 polls will be postponed if Congress passes a law suspending it. However, they see no justification behind a suspension, as Comelec still has an ample amount of time on its hands to prepare for the said elections.
“If Congress really wants to postpone the upcoming 2022 National and Local Elections, they can postpone it up to the last day of May 2022. Going by our 2016 election experience, the President and the Vice President election can still be proclaimed before the term expiration of the current ones,” Lente clarified.
“The [Comelec] has at least 20 full months to prepare and implement measures to comply with the recommended health standards to combat the threats of COVID-19 […] South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia have in fact conducted their elections this year, amidst the pandemic,” it added.
Currently, the country has one of the highest COVID-19 cases in the Southeast Asian region. As of Friday, there are 299,361 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Philippines, of which 61,766 are still active; 232,399 have recovered from the disease, while the death toll is at 5,196.
The country is currently not faring well compared to its neighbors as it has a moderate transmission rate according to data from the Lancet COVID-19 Commission. The study ranked the Philippines at 66th out of the 91 countries in terms of containing the disease. [ac]