One News – Eye On 2022: Hybrid Elections, Charter Change Being Proposed Amid The Pandemic

By One News

In 22 months, the country is expected to hold general elections that will cover all national and local positions. So it is not surprising that poll-related issues have started to surface.

The next general elections will be held in May 2022. That’s less than two years away – possibly the reason why various issues are being linked to the elections wherein Filipinos are expected to vote for a new president, vice president and other national and local officials.

In a press statement on July 16, Senate President Vicente Sotto III announced that one of his priority bills was the Hybrid Election Act, which would allow manual voting and counting at the precinct level of the national, local and Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) elections, and then automated transmission and canvassing.

“The mixed mode is aimed at ensuring credible, accurate and transparent elections,” Sotto said.

Sen. Imee Marcos, chairperson of the Senate committee on electoral reforms, said in January that her panel had not yet decided on the system they would endorse for plenary consideration and approval.

Sotto’s Senate Bill No. 7, which he filed in July last year, cited problems in the 2016 automated elections that allegedly altered the results of the voting.

“This bill aims to address the issues of a fully automated election system.

In having a manual voting and counting, the public will have an unimpeded view of the real time input of votes. Also, the total number of valid ballots used as well as the results will reflect both in a manual and digital election returns. In case of a discrepancy between the manual and digital election returns, the former shall prevail,” the bill states.

It adds: “The digital election return will be projected while the entries are being recorded in real time for the benefit of the viewing public. In this way, the voters will be able to ascertain the accuracy between the actual casted votes and those being transmitted electronically. This mode will strengthen the integrity of the elections and forgo with the issues like early and inaccurate transmission of votes.”

Sotto said with the hybrid system of manual voting and counting at the precinct level and automated transmission and canvassing, all subsequent elections will surely be “accurate and transparent.”

President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo were elected in 2016, but Robredo’s victory continues to be challenged by her rival, former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Duterte and Robredo succeeded Benigno Aquino III and Jejomar Binay, who won as president and vice president, respectively, in the country’s first fully automated elections in 2010.

The conduct of the 2019 elections, which saw no one from the opposition winning in the senatorial race, was also criticized due to many glitches.

Charter change

On Saturday, July 18, the Department of the Interior and Local Government bared that a total of 1,488 municipal mayors have expressed support for Charter change or Cha-cha.

According to the DILG, the League of Municipalities of the Philippines submitted a paper and officially handed over to the department on Wednesday, July 15, a resolution dated June 19, 2020, supporting Cha-cha.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año said the mayors recognized the urgency of amending the Constitution due to the greater need for regional development.

Año argued that the pandemic “has clearly shown that unequal economic development across regions is a grave problem not only socioeconomic-wise but also health and governance-wise.”

Malacañang said on Monday that Cha-cha is not a priority of President Duterte in this pandemic. The Senate has also consistently opposed Cha-cha, which must be approved by Congress and ratified by the people in a national plebiscite. The issue could reach the Supreme Court. With just two years left in the Duterte presidency, and with the country still battling the COVID crisis, Cha-cha will likely have to wait for the next administration.

The DILG’s constitutional reform campaign will be launched during the opening of Congress’ second regular session on July 27.

In a statement on Monday, July 20, the DILG welcomed the “overwhelming” support of the LMP for “President Duterte’s agenda for change in pushing for amendments to the 1987 Constitution.”

It said “the solid backing of the municipal mayors sends a strong signal that local governments are clamoring for real change especially in this time of pandemic.”

DILG Undersecretary and spokesman Jonathan Malaya explained that the Duterte administration’s Constitutional Reform or CORE campaign is part of the government’s long-term “Balik Probinsya” program, which is the government’s long-term readiness plan against the pandemic.

“The ultimate goal of Balik Probinsya is Angat Probinsiya, which is to create economic opportunities in the provinces to decongest Metro Manila. This is what the CORE campaign wants to achieve – regional development, more IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment) for the regions, greater investments in regional growth corridors, and lifting of the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution to bring in more foreign direct investment, among others,” Malaya said.

“We thank the mayors for their support. They know very well the situation on the ground and they recognize that only through constitutional amendments will they be given more powers and resources to manage their localities and serve their constituents well, especially during a pandemic,” he added.

Malaya stressed that the pandemic has clearly shown that the financial resources from the top must be spread out across the country so that local government units (LGUs) will be in a better position to maintain and protect the health and general welfare of their constituents.

“The fiscal strengthening of local governments proposed under the CORE campaign is an idea whose time has come,” he said.

In its resolution, the LMP particularly called for the institutionalization of the so-called Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court in the Constitution.

The 2018 ruling states that the “just share” of local government units should be based on all national taxes, not just on national internal revenue taxes. The LMP says this will ensure that regions will have a continuous fair share in all the taxes collected by the national government that will accelerate progress in the regions.

The league also wants the lifting of constitutional restrictions that bar foreign investors from entering certain industries, to promote more employment opportunities for the people in the countryside.

Scrapping 2022 polls, term extension

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said on Sunday, July 19, that LGUs should not be worried about their higher IRAs, stressing that neither the executive nor Congress can set aside or revise the SC ruling on the Mandanas case in 2019.

Drilon said the claim of the LMP on increasing their IRA and boosting investments could be a ruse to push for the real agenda behind the latest Cha-cha effort.

Drilon warned that attempts to scrap the 2022 elections and extend the term of sitting officials could be behind the revival of the campaign to amend the Constitution.

Vice President Leni Robredo urged the government to focus on measures to stop the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) instead of Cha-cha.

“Our target should also be how to stop the COVID-19 transmission, and Charter change is not a solution,” the Vice President said in her radio program on Sunday. “We try to return to normal, but as long as the numbers of (COVID-19 cases) continue to rise, we cannot do so.”

Not a priority

Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, disclosed on Monday that he would immediately act on Cha-cha proposals amid the pandemic once Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address.

In his SONA last year, Duterte no longer included Cha-cha among his priorities.

Sotto said over the weekend that Cha-cha is not among the Senate’s priorities because it is a highly contentious issue.

On Monday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque also pointed out that the government is focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that amending the Constitution never emerged as a priority in Duterte’s weekly addresses to the nation.

“The truth is the President, the whole government, through the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases), is focused on the problem of COVID-19. So Charter change is not a priority, although I’m personally sympathetic to the league because that is the ruling on the Mandanas versus Executive Secretary and I am one of the lawyers who helped them in that case,” Roque said in a press briefing.

“But I think the mayors will understand (the priorities of the President),” Roque added.

Amending the Constitution was one of the campaign promises of Duterte, the first president from Mindanao. Duterte had pushed for a federal type of government, saying it is necessary to spur development in far-flung areas and to address the conflict in Mindanao. Since the creation of the BARMM, however, he has dropped his push for federalism and Cha-cha.

It is not only Cha-cha that is being linked to the elections but also the shutdown of ABS-CBN Corp.

On July 10, the House committee on legislative franchises junked ABS-CBN’s application for renewal of franchise, citing various grounds.

Critics believe the move was political as Duterte himself said he would make sure that the network would be “out,” while Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano declared that the House move ended the privilege of one family – referring to the owners of ABS-CBN.

The President also boasted that he was able to destroy “oligarchs” in the country without declaring martial law.

Cayetano, who lost to Robredo as Duterte’s running mate in the 2016 elections, said the network had been partisan and openly supported candidates in the past, including Robredo and Sen. Grace Poe, who ran against Duterte.

Opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan earlier said the situation of ABS-CBN workers would not matter if the administration intended to suppress mass media so it could push its agenda.

“As the history of mankind spanning thousands of years will show us, for tyrants, holding on to and exercising uncontested, absolute power is far more important than the welfare of the people,” Pangilinan noted.

Albay 2nd District Rep. Joey Salceda said the rejection of ABS-CBN’s franchise could be traced back to the 2016 elections.

“In the 2016 presidential elections, candidate Duterte was not handpicked by big (business) or by the so-called oligarchy… (but achieved a) landslide victory because the voters did not mind his parochial credentials and believed his populist propaganda,” Salceda said.

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