By Catherine S. Valente | The Manila Times
Malacañang on Friday rejected a lawmaker’s proposal to postpone the 2022 elections, saying the Constitution must be upheld.
During House budget deliberations on Thursday, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider putting on hold the 2022 polls because voters would be too afraid of catching the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) to go out and vote.
In a statement, however, Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said postponing the elections “presents constitutional challenges.”
Roque stressed that the Constitution “is clear on the fixed date for the national elections, which is the second Monday of May.”
With the national election still two years away, “we still have sufficient time to prepare. 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,” he said.
“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,” Roque added.
Arroyo said the fear of the pandemic would result in few people being able to register to vote, along with other possible logistical lapses.
On Friday, Arroyo, son of former president and speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, clarified that he did not want the elections postponed outright, saying the idea was a “last resort” if the Covid-19 pandemic lasted until 2022.
Senators on Friday also thumbed down Arroyo’s proposal.
Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd said the idea presents a number of controversial and unconstitutional issues.
“To name a few, who will hold over their positions? If not, who will appoint their replacements? The tenure of elected government officials is fixed,” Sotto said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he was not surprised by Arroyo’s proposal. “This is the continued effort at a no-el (no elections) scenario. The postponement could be a prelude to the main objective of extending the terms of members of Congress and the elected officials,” Drilon said.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, chairman of the Senate national defense and security committee, said canceling or postponing the election is a clear violation of the Constitution.
“Any discussion or debate on this issue is an exercise in futility, if not a waste of time and energy,” Lacson said.
Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, chairman of the Senate electoral reforms and people’s participation committee, said South Korea, Taiwan, Belarus, Singapore, Iceland and Poland had conducted elections during the Covid pandemic and, in November, the United States would also do so.
“However, we should explore all possible scenarios: the three-day in-person recommendation of Comelec, expanded early voting, mail-in ballots and, even in select cases, livestream online voting,” Marcos said.
Arroyo’s proposal also found no supporters in the House of Representatives Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said all elected officials must “face the crucible of facing the judgment of our people in regular elections as mandated by our Constitution.”
“If the virus is still around, the Comelec shall make preparations for effective and efficient methods for conducting elections observing social distancing and other precautionary measures for our people to vote safely,” Rodriguez said.
Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun, a member of the House Committee on Suffrage And Electoral Reforms, said elections “are essential to our democracy.”
“Postponement of the May 2022 national and local elections should be the last thing in our minds. That suggestion will be met with serious constitutional challenges. The particular day of the conduct of national and local elections is already fixed by the Constitution. Not by Comelec. Not even by Congress,” said Fortun.
Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said Comelec, Congress or even Malacañang couldn’t decide on the postponement “without tampering or without running against the wisdom or the mandate of our Constitution.”
Gabriela party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said the proposal had no objective basis and is a “conditioning” strategy by the “Duterte clique” to keep the President in office.
Veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said postponing the 2022 presidential elections is not only unconstitutional but also runs counter to the government’s claim that it is winning its fight against Covid-19.
Macalintal said in a statement Friday the President and his allies should instead assure the people that the 2022 polls would push through to be consistent with their claim that the Philippines is winning its fight against the pandemic.
He also agreed with the position of former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, Senator Lacson and other lawmakers that postponing the elections is unconstitutional.
Macalintal advised the Comelec to closely observe the presidential election in the United States in November.
“The Philippine government and its agencies can learn a lot of lessons from the results of the US polls.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the 2022 polls couldn’t be simply postponed unless the Constitution is amended.
Jimenez said the Comelec is considering a number of Covid-19 scenario elections, including the procurement of additional counting machines and extending the polls to two to three days.
WITH JAVIER JOE ISMAEL, DIVINA NOVA JOY DELA CRUZ AND WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL