Senate divided on whether to postpone 2019 midterm elections
The Senate is divided on the question of canceling or postponing next year’s midterm elections to clear the way for the introduction of federalism in the Philippines.
Malacañang, however, is firm about the holding of the midterms as required by the Constitution.
“As long as the date for the elections, as provided for in our Constitution, is unchanged, President Duterte will implement this and the 2019 elections will push through,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.
Roque was referring to Section 8, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, which states that the election of the senators and the members of the House of Representatives shall be held on the second Monday of May every three years.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, President Duterte’s right-hand man in the House, told reporters on Wednesday that it was difficult for him to say if the midterm would be held next year, as things depended on the choice of priority: the elections or the proposed shift to federalism through constitutional amendments.
He said it might be “practical” to postpone the elections to ease the change to federalism.
Roque said the elections could be canceled only if the proposed federal Charter was ratified earlier, in which case the 1987 Constitution would no longer have legal effect.
“But while there is no new Constitution yet, the President will see to it that there will be an election,” he said.
After questioning the suggestion of Alvarez on Wednesday, citing the constitutional provision setting the date for congressional elections, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Thursday that it was possible to pass a law to postpone the midterms.
Sotto noted that the provision included the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law.”
‘I stand corrected’
The phrase means there is no need for constitutional amendment to postpone the elections, he said.
“A law by both houses of Congress may be able to postpone elections, so I stand corrected” Sotto told reporters after receiving the draft federal Charter.
He said, however, that there should be determination first if Congress had enough time to discuss proposed changes to the Constitution or whether it really needed to defer the elections.
But Sen. Francis Escudero said Congress had no power to postpone the elections through a simple law, as it would need an amendment of the Constitution.
“I believe you cannot legislate it because it is clear in the Constitution that the term of a congressman lasts for three years and there should be elections every three years,” Escudero said in news forum in the Senate.
Sen. Grace Poe, in a television interview, said she believed the Senate would reject the cancellation of the elections.
The people should not accept it either, Poe said.
“We cannot really have a no-election … it’s in the Constitution. Even if they amend it in the …. House, it would still need the approval of the Senate,” she said.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros also bucked moves to postpone the midterms to allow Congress to focus on amending the Constituion, describing the moves for a change to federalism as “farcical.”
Hontiveros said there were more important issues that deserved the legislators’ attention, such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law now being blamed for rising prices of basic goods.
“Instead of advancing narrow political interests such as prolonging terms of public office through an unnecessary postponement of elections, what Congress needs to do is protect the people’s economic rights and welfare,” she said.
The opposition in the House said on Thursday that the suggestion of Alvarez to postpone the elections showed the real motive behind the effort to amend the Constitution.
“Term extension. This is a reward for members of Congress who will support the shift (to federalism). The conflict of interest is very clear,” Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, who had announced plans to run for the Senate next year, said in a Twitter post.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio echoed this point, saying Alvarez’s remark was “useful in that it reveals the self-interested motives of the advocates of Duterte’s push for Charter change.” —WITH REPORTS FROM JULIE M. AURELIO AND VINCE F. NONATO
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.