POSTPONE 2022 POLLS TO 2025? PETITION FILED: COVID-19 threat cited as reason; Unconstitutional, say poll experts


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MANILA – As presidential and vice presidential aspirants and local candidates stepped up their “dialogue” with the voters in various parts of the country and held motorcades to “inform” the voters of their candidacy, a group filed a petition with the Commission on Elections seeking to postpone the 2022 general election to 2025 or at least a year due to the threat to lives of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move was immediately opposed by Constitutional experts and the aspirants themselves, pointing out that the election date is set by the Constitution and enabling laws, adding that only Constitutional change can make the re-scheduling of the elections possible.
The law provides that national elections are held every six years on the first Monday of May. For next year, the date falls on May 9. Election campaign, however, will officially start only in February.
The presidential aspirants going around with the vice presidential bets are Senators Emmanuel Pacquiao (with Deputy Speaker Jose Lito Atienza Jr.) and Panfilo Lacson (with Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso (with Dr. Willie Ong), former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte), Vice President Maria Leonor Leni Robredo (with Senator Francis Pangilinan) and labor leader Leody de Guzman, following the withdrawal of candidacy of Sen. Christopher Lawrence Go.

One of those who voiced opposition to the petition was former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod who said a constitutional crisis may ensue if elections are not held as scheduled.

Several senators said the proposed postponement of elections is “unconstitutional.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III warned that postponing the elections will create a “vacuum in the government.”

“Unconstitutional. There will be a vacuum in the [government],” said Sotto, a vice presidential aspirant.

“There is no provision in the Constitution that will allow a holdover for national officials except for 12 members of the Senate,” he added.

James Jimenez, spokesman of the Commission on Elections, also shot down the proposed postponement of elections, saying it is unlikely.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to have much of a chance. You’re basically saying ignore the Constitution,” Jimenez said. “The implication is of course you’re going to need to amend the Constitution and to do that… you’re going to have a ratification plebiscite and the plebiscite is an election. Medyo absurd siya [It’s quite absurd].”

He said the country will be without a president and other positions left vacant if the elections are  pushed back, given that there are no provisions for holdover that will allow incumbents to remain in power.

Jimenez said pushing back the scheduled May 9 polls is disregarding the Constitution.

“When you call for suspension of elections of this magnitude, nationwide and for at least a year, you’re basically saying ignore the Constitution, not hold elections the way the Constitution says it should. The implications of that is the need to amend Constitution. You cannot ignore the Constitution,” he said in a virtual press briefing.

“You want to suspend elections but you need to hold an elections/plebiscite to suspend the elections. To amend the Constitution, you need to have a plebiscite,” Jimenez added.

Should the elections get suspended, Jimenez said there would be no officials elected.

“There is no holdover provision. Which means, that if you suspend elections for 2023, then that means you have entire year with no elected officials. What are we going to do? Nominate, appoint, by whose authority, for what purpose? This doom mongering doesn’t help. The petition itself is probably based on a mistaken notion, that the Comelec has the power to suspend elections,” Jimenez added.

Jimenez explained that the commission has no power to postpone the polls because it is mandated by the Constitution but has the authority, under the Omnibus Election Code, to postpone it if there is a valid reason.

He said the Comelec can suspend electoral exercises but on certain conditions, such as when free and fair elections do not exist.

“Example: there is fire, ballots have been damaged by flood, all the teachers were infected with Covid-19 for those reasons, we can suspend elections. But only while that reason exists. For example, there have been replacement, then you can hold elections right away. Not supposed to suspend on a great length of time,” the poll body official said.

The petitioner, called Coalition for Life and Democracy (NCLD), invoked the Constitution which states that the right to life “takes precedence” and is “the highest and most sacred” in the hierarchy of human rights.

In its petition, the NCLD, which is said to be composed of lawyers, cited the continuing threat of COVID-19, noting that the Omicron variant poses a “clear, present, and imminent danger” even if its detection has yet to be confirmed by health authorities.

The NCLD said the State can use its police power and adopt extraordinary measures to protect health and prevent more deaths from COVID-19.

At the same time, the NCLD slammed the “meet and greet” engagements of aspirants for the 2022 polls as these place the life, health, and safety of the “poor and innocent in grave jeopardy.”

“These politicians do not really care about the lives of the poor voters. If they truly are concerned of the plight of the poor, there are many other ways of helping them and not thru assemblies in violation of IATF protocols and end either laws and ordinances making them appear as mendicants for money or relief goods,” the NCLD said.

The group made a similar request to President Rodrigo Duterte in August, and it now cite the Omicron variant as another reason to postpone the voting, fearing that campaign activities will cause another outbreak.

“NCLD, true to its advocacy, is extremely worried of the clear, present and imminent danger posed by this new variant. Transmission and infection could hardly be prevented specially with the rampant violation of health and safety protocols being committed by vote-buying politicians who in the pretext of helping the poor, engage in early vote-buying – in blatant violation of the Omnibus Election Code,” the group said.

“Television and social media show large crowds gathering in various parts of the country hoping to receive amounts from presidential, gubernatorial and mayoral candidates who in the guise of ‘meet and greet’ engage in open vote-buying, and in the process placing the life, health and safety of the poor and innocent in grave jeopardy. These politicians do not really care about the lives of the poor voters,” it added.

However, the petition itself may have inconsistencies. In one page, the group wants the polls held in 2023 and in another, by May 2025. It was eventually clarified by NCLD that it wants only a one-year postponement.

“We can seek the postponement of a scheduled national elections through the filing of a bill in congress, to be decided by both Houses, and to be signed by the President; along this line ang mga local officials naman, the elections for the local officials… the [Comelec], voting on a majority of the members of the en banc, can postpone a local election,” said Francisco Buan, one of the petitioners.

Buan said they wrote Congress, but no bill has been filed as of yet.

Noticeably, the petition cited different years for the resetting of polls: in the body, the plea was for the polls to be held in May 2023, while the prayer states it should be in May 2025.

The petition states the coalition was formed in June 2021 at the St. Clare College in Caloocan City, “anchored on a noble mission to underscore and uphold the importance and primacy of life, its protection and preservation, while adhering to democratic systems, principles and ideology.”

Buan said their group is “apolitical.”