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Senators warn no-el violates 1987 charter

Congress has no power to postpone the coming mid-term elections next May through a simple law, as an amendment of the 1987 Constitution is needed to do it, Senator Francis Escudero said Friday.

“Does Congress have power to postpone our elections? I believe it does not have. You need changes, amendment in the Constitution before you can postpone the national and local elections,” said Escudero, adding this could not be done through a simple law that would be passed by Congress.

He also said a separate provision in the Constitution clearly stated that congressmen had a three-year term while senators had a six-year term in office.

“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,” he said.

In related developments:

• Postponement of next year’s elections would be confronted by public outrage as Filipinos don’t like politicians extending their terms, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution said Friday.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said elections might not be held next year to give way to discussions on charter change, given candidacies have to be filed by October.

“I wish they would do that because I think the people would be very angry... One of the things they don’t like is politicians extending their terms beyond the term for which they were voted for by the people,” 1987 Constitutional Commission member Christian Monsod told ANC’s Early Edition.

-• The labor group Federation of Free Workers warned the government of nationwide unrest should next year’s elections be postponed.

“Postponing the midterm elections is an invitation to chaos and anarchy in the streets,” lawyer Sonny Matula, president of the FFW, said.

“It is dangerous and has no legal basis,” continued Matula.     

Except for the barangay elections, all the scheduled elections since the ratification of the 1987 Constitution have gone on as scheduled.

Escudero contradicted the opinion of Senate President Vicente Sotto III that a simple law was needed to defer the coming elections.

“If this will be the case, it will be a new bullet amendment in the Constitution that I do not know how it will be done or if this can be done,” Escudero said.

Escudero also noted that the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” cited by Sotto only pertains to the date of the elections— every second of Monday of May—which could be changed to either First or Third Monday of May.

“But you cannot change it in three years,” Escudero said.

He reiterated that while the date of the elections could be changed, there was another provision that clearly provided for the tenure of elective officials.

Saying he might be open to the postponement of next year’s elections, Sotto said such was not possible unless the Constitution was amended first.

In an interview on Dobol B sa News TV, Sotto said what could be changed through legislation was the date of election but it should not affect the term of the senators and congressmen.

“It’s possible to postpone the election if Congress would want it by merely passing a law, either making the date of the polls earlier or later, but the term cannot be extended due to a provision under Article VI, Section 8,” said Sotto.

Section 8 states 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.

If the amended date will be set beyond the term of office provided by law, he noted those members of Congress, both Senate and House of Representatives, whose term ends at noon of June 30, cannot have a holdover capacity. 

He added the term of office could not be extended as an effect of the law changing the date of the election.

“The term of a public official cannot be extended because of that phrase saying that ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’ is the date of election,” Sotto said.

“The intention of changing the date of the election is to extend the term of office of lawmakers to afford them time to change the Charter for the shift to federalism, then the amendment to the Constitution must still be made,” he added.

Senator Grace Poe said she believed the Senate would reject the cancellation of the elections.

She also said the people should not accept it either. 

She said the public would object to any move to expedite the proposed shift to a federal form of government.

“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.

Asked if she was wary that Congress led by administration allies in the House would convert itself into a constituent assembly to vote on the draft Charter during the President’s national address, Poe had this to say:

“What message are they trying to send? If you will do that, it will be obvious to the public that they’re doing something stupid.”

“If they really believe in their proposed Charter, why would they pull these kinds of stunts?” she asked.

“Make it go through the proper process. If both Houses debate on it, there should still be a plebiscite. In the end, it is still the public who will vote,” Poe said.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros herself slammed proposals to postpone the 2019 midterm elections to allow lawmakers to tackle a draft constitution that would pave the way for the country’s shift to federalism, which she said is a move to prolong the term limits of the President’s 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.

She said there were more important issues that deserved the legislators’ attention, such as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law now being blamed for rising prices of basic goods.

She urged her colleagues in Congress to set their priorities straight and not sacrifice the people’s rights over their own ambitions.

She challenged her fellow lawmakers to join her in pushing for the passage of Senate Bill No. 1671 or the “Bawas VAT” bill that seeks to lower the value-added tax from 12 percent to 10 percent “to provide relief for the lower economic deciles of the population affected by the TRAIN Law.”

She emphasized that postponing the elections to give way to deliberations on federalism was a great disservice to the proposed new system of governance.

“Was that what the President’s federalism was all about all along? Prolong the term limits of his political allies?” she asked.

“The social contract of nationally elected representatives and local officials with the people as to the term of office is only three years, while that of senators is six years, subject to a limited number of reelections,” Matula said.

“With all due respect, the proposal of Speaker Alvarez is an alteration of the constitution without authorization, by amendment or revision. His call is a clear call for defiance of the terms of office of elected public officers in the fundamental law,” said Matula.     

“The constitution is the supreme law of the land, which all laws and acts must conform to, and all public officials—no matter how high their offices may be—must bow to and not defy its mandate,” Matula said.

Meanwhile, the FFW reiterated its preference for a constitutional convention as the best mode of revising or re-examining the 1987 Constitution even as it accepted the apology of former Chief Justice Reynato Puno.     

“The FFW accepts the apology of Chief Justice Puno to Filipino workers and their trade unions on the deletion of pro-labor provisions in the proposed new constitution,” Matula said.          

The former chief magistrate referred to the incident as an “honest mistake” or mere inadvertence.

“But then again we need not be in haste in adopting a new fundamental law, otherwise we might again miss other important provisions because of lack of time or lack of representation,” Matula said.     

The     FFW agrees with Puno’s earlier opinion that “we should not adopt the cheap argument.”

“We should not count the cost of writing a Constitution because a good Constitution is the best investment a people can make,” Puno said before he accepted the Chairmanship of the ConCom.

Topics: Senator Francis Escudero , 1987 Constitution , Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez , Christian Monsod
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