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Sotto: ‘We can pass a law postponing’ polls

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SENATE President Vicente Sotto III (5thfrom right) receives a draft of the proposed Federal Constitution from former Supreme Court Chief Justice and Consultative Committee (ConCom) Chairman Reynato Puno (6th from right) Thursday, July 12, 2018. Sotto said senators would receive a copy of the draft so they could discuss how to include it in their schedule. Also in photo is former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. (4th from right). — PRIB PHOTO BY JOSEPH VIDAL

By Camille A. Aguinaldo
and Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporters

SENATE PRESIDENT Vicente C. Sotto III said on Thursday a law may be passed postponing the 2019 elections “if it was indeed necessary” to allow Congress more time to tackle amendments to the 1987 Constitution.Malacañang on the other hand assured the 2019 midterm elections will proceed as scheduled.

Mr. Sotto said in his press briefing on Thursday: “If we want (charter change) to be done quickly, maybe (postponing the midterm elections) is needed. We will have to see how it goes…. This is my opinion, this is not written in stone. If we call for a constituent assembly, we will need to pass a joint resolution calling for one, then we can decide if we can finish it by December or not and postpone elections. Then we can pass a law postponing elections.”

The Consultative Committee (ConCom) on Thursday turned over its proposed federal constitution to the Senate. The Senate leader added: “Perhaps Speaker (Pantaleon D. Alvarez) is thinking (of) postpon(ing) (the elections) first then we can discuss (charter change). For me, I’m saying let’s try to discuss if we can finish before the elections.”

Mr. Sotto earlier said the 1987 Constitution would have to be amended to allow a “no-election scenario” in 2019. Thereafter, he said Congress may pass legislation to postpone the polls.

According to Article 4, Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution, “unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election of the Senators and the Members of the House of Representatives shall be held on the second Monday of May.”

The Senate leader also said charter change is now a priority of the Senate when it resumes session on July 23, on top of deliberations on next year’s national budget ahead of the election campaign also next year.

“We will have to make time. The way I’m hearing from the Consultative Committee and the President, this is indeed a priority so we will have to take it up,” Mr. Sotto said.

Mr. Alvarez on Wednesday raised the possibility of postponing the 2019 midterm elections so the House of Representatives could focus on charter change, citing the expected lack of quorum in the plenary ahead of the election campaign period.

When sought for comment, Senate President and ConCom member Aquilino Q. Pimentel, Jr. said opposed the “no-election scenario” in 2019.

“I don’t like it. They’re using charter change as a reason to postpone elections. As a matter of fact, President Duterte does not want to give the people the impression that he’s using federalism to extend his term. He doesn’t like that,” Mr. Pimentel told reporters.

Several senators also rejected the suggestion to postpone the midterm elections.

Senator Grace Poe-Llamazanres said the public would not accept “any move to shortcut” the shift to federalism.“The Constitution specifically states when we are going to have the elections and 2019 is certainly an election year. You can probably amend the Constitution but even if you do, you need the Senate vote,” the senator said in a television interview.

Senator Francis G. Escudero said Charter change would need a longer time to be tackled the same way Congress worked on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) and the tax reform law.

“So if the organic law in Muslim Mindanao and the overhaul of the National Internal Revenue Code took that long, I think we should allot the necessary time for the Constitution because all laws came from the Constitution,” he said at the Kapihan sa Senado media forum.

Senator Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel called the plan “farcical,” saying that postponing elections seemed like the President’s federalism advocacy turned out to be term extensions for his political allies.

“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 in statement. For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said at the Palace on Thursday, “Gaya ng paulit-ulit na nating sinabi, ang Presidente po ang tagapagpatupad ng ating Saligang Batas. Hanggang hindi po mababago ang petsa ng halalan na nakasaad sa ating Saligang Batas, ipatutupad po ’yan ng Presidente. Matutuloy po ang eleksiyon ng 2019.”

(Like what we have repeatedly said, the President is the chief implementer of the Constitution. The President will abide by the holding of the elections as scheduled by in the law, unless it is amended. The 2019 elections will proceed as scheduled.)

He said the only possibility there will be no elections in 2019 is if the proposed new charter will be ratified earlier by the people. “And the President has said that if it is finally ratified by the people, then he will step down. And he is hoping that both the Consultative Committee and Congress will adapt his suggestion calling for a transitory provision providing that the transition leader will be an elected (official),” Mr. Roque said.

“In which case, the ’87 Constitution would cease to have legal effect, pero habang wala pa pong bagong Saligang Batas sisiguraduhin po ng Presidente magkaka-eleksiyon (but while there is no new constitution, the President will make sure that there will be elections),” he said.