NO ELECTION IN 2022? PLOY TO EXTEND DUTERTE IN OFFICE? Senate readies for crisis if polls reset

By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief

MANILA – With only a month before the official start of the campaign for national and local elective posts from the president down to councilor, the country is gripped with a plan to extend the filing of certificate of candidacy (COC) which already lapsed in October. The plan was described by some as a “ploy” to extend the term of President Rodrigo Duterte which ends on June 30, 2022.

The plan is contained in a petition filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) by the PDP-Laban wing of President Duterte and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi seeking to reopen the filing of CoCs and the postponement of the printing of official ballots. It was initially shot down by a Comelec official, but it is the Comelec en banc which should make an official position on the matter.

The petition was immediately branded by the PDP-Laban wing of Senators Aquilino Pimentel and Emmanuel Pacquiao as a possible ploy to extend the term of President Duterte which by law should end on June 30, 2022.

Senatorial aspirant Lutgardo Barbo, who sits as vice chairman of the PDP-Laban wing led by  Pacquiao, said the petition filed by Cusi’s group is a last ditch effort to stall the election in 2022.

The Cusi-led faction, however, said they are only “exercising its rights under the election laws.”

The  Comelec discussed the petition to reopen the period for filing certificates of candidacy (COCs) in an en banc meeting but, according to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, the Commission en banc has not issued a ruling.

“The en banc deferred resolution of the petition for the reopening of the period for filing COCs. It is expected that the matter will be resolved next week, with all points raised by the petition being squarely addressed,” he said in a statement.

Jimenez added the petition to postpone the May 2022 polls, which was sought by Coalition for Life and Democracy, was not discussed by the Comelec en banc.

“The petition to postpone elections has not yet been taken up. The matter may be calendared for next week’s en banc,” he added.

Last month, the Coalition for Life and Democracy urged the Comelec to postpone the May 2022 elections due to the threat of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19).

On Tuesday, the group called anew the attention of the poll body to already act on their petition.

Meanwhile, Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales, who belongs to the administration coalition, filed a resolution calling for the convening of Congress as a constituent assembly to amend the constitution, specifically on the term of president, vice president and members of Congress. Gonzales proposal was immediately shot down by senators.

 Jimenez has declared that the Comelec may not grant the petition to postpone the elections due to provisions of the Constitution and the law.

The constitutional provisions  state that unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for president, vice president should be held on the second Monday of May every six years (Artoc;e VII, Section 4) and the second Monday of May every three years for senators and  members of the House of Representatives (Article VI, Section 8), he said.

Given the constitutional provisions, Jimenez stressed that the May 2022 polls cannot be postponed like the barangay elections.

“[The date of] barangay elections is set by law enacted by Congress. The national elections is not enacted by some law. It is in the Constitution. Those who are saying that [national elections can be postponed like barangay elections], they have no idea what they are talking about,” Jimenez said.

 Jimenez said that Comelec is capable of multitasking even amid the pending petitions seeking to cancel the certificate of candidacy or disqualification of certain 2022 hopefuls.

“Comelec is not a one trick pony. It can do many things at the same time,” he said.

“Tuloy ang halalan, hindi tayo made-delay (The elections are on and it won’t be delayed),” Jimenez added.

Constitutional and law experts, meanwhile, said the petition was without basis as the Constitution provides the terms of national officials led by the President, the end of the term and the schedule of elections.

What the petition seeks is clearly a violation of the Constitution and laws and, if pursued, would trigger an unprecedented constitutional crisis as the term of the President, Vice President, Senators and Congressmen would expire on  June 30, 2022.

While some Comelec officials agree with the opposition view, the body will have to convene en banc to make its official decision. Almost all the Comelec commissioners are appointees of  President Duterte and this could affect their decision, it was pointed out.

Aware of a possible impending constitutional crisis, leaders of the Senate started preparing for a possible “No-Election” (No-El) scenario should a faction of the PDP-Laban push to stall Eleksyon 2022, according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson.

  “I would not like to think that the intention of the petition to reopen the filing of the COCs filed by the PDP-Laban is to delay the election on May 9, 2022 – and pave the way for the extension of the term of office of the President beyond June 30, 2022. This is something the 1987 Constitution clearly forbids,” said Lacson, a presidential aspirant for the 2022 elections.

“As I have suggested earlier to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and some of my colleagues, the Senate must not allow this to happen. We can preserve the presidential line of succession as provided under Art. VII Sec. 7 of the 1987 Constitution,” he added.

According to Lacson, a sitting senator whose term is valid until June 2025 should be elected as Senate President to ensure that the presidential line of succession will be followed.

“SP Sotto and Speaker Lord Allan Velasco are both stepping down along with the President and Vice President on June 30. If such a scenario becomes imminent, before Congress adjourns, we will elect a new Senate President whose term expires on June 30, 2025. He/she shall act as President until a new President or Vice President shall have been chosen and qualified,” Lacson said.

“Most of my colleagues have already agreed to this proposal, since democracy and the fundamental law of the land could be at risk,” he added.

While making the suggestion, Lacson clarified that he is not accusing the Duterte administration of “any malevolent attempt in this possible scenario.”

“What I’m only saying is that the Senate will always be the bulwark of our democracy, and I take pride in playing a major role in it,” he said.

Sotto, who runs as Lacson’s vice president for 2022 polls, confirmed that the upper chamber has discussed the matter.

“Yes, we have discussed that. It’s our idea of how to resolve the problem of vacancy in the leadership. We were ten steps ahead,” Sotto said.

He also explained that Senate is not blocking anything and the body is just “resolving a Constitutional problem if everyone’s term ends in June 30 and with no newly elected officials.”

“If elections are postponed, I will step down in the last week of May upon resumption and elect a new [Senate president] (while we still have 13 votes) who will be acting President until elections are held.  They cannot replace him or her by July 1st because they will only have 12 votes,” he said.