” It is still possible to hold elections even in these times of national health emergency.”
Like constitutional change, the postponement of elections abbreviated as “No-el” or “No elections” automatically generates a knee-jerk reaction of suspicion and opposition among Filipinos.
In the past, the same proposals were unceremoniously shot down before they could take off because they created an avalanche of criticism and strong pushback from many quarters. Postponing elections, much like changing the Constitution, is invariably regarded as a self-serving device, a mere subterfuge by incumbent elected officials to cling to their posts beyond the terms limits mandated by the Constitution.
Any attempt to tinker with the Constitution or postpone the elections is a touchstone issue that Filipinos regard with utmost suspicion; one that we cannot countenance. It is one issue that frays the nerves and elicit instinctive condemnation and rejection from the people. While most may not understand the intricacies of the Constitution, people do know that choosing the people who will govern and represent them is a sovereign right, one that cannot be usurped by self-serving politicians or “trapos.” Filipinos want therefore to strictly enforce the constitutional concept of term limits and the holding of regular elections even if Philippine elections are historically not the most peaceful, orderly and civil.
This time around, the possibility of postponing the 2022 general elections was raised by House Deputy Majority Leader and Pampanga 2nd Dist. Rep. Mikey Arroyo. The main contention advanced by the proponent is the on-going public health emergency or the COVID-19 pandemic. As we all know, this pandemic has affected every inch of our lives. Some anticipate that this will also possibly include the conduct of the general elections scheduled for 2022.
The Constitution fixes the date of the national and local elections. As provided, the regular election for President and Vice-President is held on the second Monday of May, unless otherwise provided by law. The same goes with the regular election of the members of Congress. For the date of the elections of local elective officials, we refer not only to the Constitution but also to general laws like the Election Code and the Local Government Code which set their election every three (3) years on the second Monday of May, again, unless otherwise provided by law. For the 2022 presidential and vice-presidential race, elections are scheduled for Monday, May 9, 2022 as part of that year’s general elections.
But even if the elections were to be postponed by Congress, the term limits of the president down to the lowest ranking local elective official, except for barangay executives and Bangsamoro officials cannot be extended since these are fixed by the Constitution. Thus, all elective officials have to step down once their term of office ends on June 30, 2022, according to the 1987 Constitution.
Only a constitutional amendment can change these terms and, approving them requires the conduct of a plebiscite which is an election. As laid down in the infamous case of Javellana v. Executive Secretary, decided in 1973 and which allowed the Marcos Constitution to operate in the country, there is only one way to ratify constitutional amendments or a new constitution—an election or plebiscite held in accordance with law and participated in only by qualified and duly registered voters.
Neither can the Commission on Elections postpone the 2022 elections. While it can do so insofar as local elections are concerned, this can be done only under specified circumstances. The Election Code cites as ground for postponement “any serious cause such as violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure, and other analogous causes of such a nature that the holding of a free, orderly and honest election should become impossible in any political subdivision,” (section 5, Omnibus election Code).
Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic is not one of them. It is still possible to hold elections even in these times of national health emergency.
At most, the Comelec, as the independent body tasked to safeguard the sanctity of the ballot as well as ensure the conduct of a fair, orderly and free elections, should administer polls in such a way as to ensure that minimum public health safety protocols are observed. And this includes, as pointed out by Comelec director James Jimenez, holding the elections in two to three days, instead of just one day, expanding alternative voting methods, and allowing online filing of Certificates of Candidacy to avoid crowding, among others.
The scheduled elections are one and a half years away. This is enough time for Comelec to prepare or for Congress to look into possible sources of funds that will enable the polling body to introduce measures to safely conduct the elections even in the midst of a pandemic.
Let’s collectively say No to No-elections
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