Bishops: ‘No-el’ prelude to dictatorship
Catholic bishops on Friday joined the growing opposition to a possible cancellation of the 2019 elections and the extension of the terms of office of President Duterte and other officials, warning that these moves could lead to a dictatorship.
“Extension of the term of any elected official must never be allowed,” Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon said on Friday.
“This is a great violation of the Constitution of our republic,” he said. “Extension of the (President’s) term smacks of an imminent dictatorship, which happened during the presidency of (the late strongman Ferdinand) Marcos.”
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, Bataan, said proposals to amend or revise the Constitution should not be used as an excuse to advance any personal agenda or a political party’s interest.
No to preconditioning
“Let us not focus on politics and not to precondition the minds of our people to a ‘no-elections’ [No-el] scenario,” Santos said.
The bishops were reacting to statements by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who had raised the possibility of extending the terms of Mr. Duterte and lawmakers if Congress succeeded in introducing a shift to federalism in the Constitution this year.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal Party, on Thursday said the extension of the terms of the President and the members of Congress was part of a planned 10-year transition period in the shift to a federal form of government.
He said this was among the “proposals we gathered being presented by the ruling PDP-Laban and members of the House of Representatives aligned with the administration.”
Detained Sen. Leila de Lima, an archcritic of the President, on Friday said Mr. Duterte and his allies’ “true and dark plans are now made public.”
“That is their true agenda—to extend their stay in power,” she said. “Their plans for No-el and the shift to federalism are there because they want to remain in their positions in the years to come.”
De Lima, who had been slapped with drug charges by the Department of Justice, spoke with reporters at Branch 34 of the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court, where she is also facing charges of disobeying a summons by the House of Representatives.
Bastes, the Sorsogon bishop, said the No-el scenario was a “specter of a looming dictatorial government.”
“We citizens should be vigilant to avoid political pitfalls,” he said.
Claudette Guevarra, secretary general of the civil society group Democracy Watch Philippines, said the 2019 midterm elections should push through so that elected officials could seek “a fresh mandate from their constituents.”
Guevarra said, however, that her group at the moment saw “no indications that it (No-el scenario) is a prelude to a dictatorship.”
“Checks and balances are still in place,” she said.
Alvarez had said he raised the No-el scenario to deal with the complication of the transition to a new federal system that would result from the election in 2019 of 12 senators with a six-year term.
He was looking at allowing the senators elected in 2013 to keep their seats until 2022 along with those elected in 2016.
“So, [the expiration of all senators’ terms] could be done simultaneously in 2022 under the new structure of government,” he explained on Thursday.
He said elections could still be held for other officials with a three-year term ending in 2022. “But in my view, there’s no need for the senators,” he said.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on Thursday said Mr. Duterte was averse to the idea of continuing to hold power after his term, even if it is extended under a new Constitution.
Roque also allayed fears of the No-el scenario floated by Alvarez, saying the Constitution mandates the holding of elections next year, unless it is amended.
Sen. JV Ejercito on Thursday expressed doubts Filipinos would accept the scrapping of the 2019 elections. “People look forward to elections, which serve as a referendum on all elected officials,” he said.
Sen. Bam Aquino said next year’s polls would be “an auditing of the first three years of the current administration and currently elected officials, whether campaign promises are fulfilled or not.” —WITH A REPORT FROM JHESSET O. ENANO
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.