The Palace, senators, the Commission on Elections and poll watchdog groups on Friday all rejected a suggestion by Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo to postpone the 2022 elections over COVID-19 fears.
“We must not use the existing global health crisis as a ground to cancel and reschedule the elections as this would not sit well with the public,” Palace spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.
Roque said the Constitution is clear on the fixed date for national elections and said there was enough time to prepare for polls that are still two years away.
“We can learn from the examples of other countries, such as the United States, which will be holding an election later this year, on how they conduct polls during [the] COVID-19 pandemic,” he added.
Senators, too, were unanimous in their rejection of Arroyo’s suggestion.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said postponement presents a number of controversial and unconstitutional issues.
“To name a few–who will hold over their positions? If not, who will appoint their replacements?” Sotto said, noting that the tenure of elected officials is fixed.
Senator Imee Marcos, chairperson of the Senate electoral reforms committee, pointed out that several countries have been able to conduct elections during the pandemic, including South Korea, Taiwan, Belarus, Singapore, Iceland, Poland and, in November, the United States.
She said, however, that Congress should explore several options, including a three-day election period to ease crowding in polling stations, expanded early voting or mail-in ballots.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said postponing the elections would mean extending the terms of office of the President, vice president, 12 senators, district representatives as well as elected local government officials beyond June 30, 2022, which is a clear violation of the Constitution.
This means discussing or debating the issue was a waste of time and energy, he added.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon vowed to vigorously oppose any plan to postpone the 2022 national and local elections. He warned that such a move could be a prelude to the main objective of extending the terms of national officials, congressmen, and other local officials.
He said he believed the Senate will not be swayed by any argument to allow the postponement of the 2022 national elections.
He added that the Comnelec cannot postpone a national election without the law being amended.
“The Comelec can only postpone an election in a political subdivision, meaning the provinces, cities or municipalities, as provided for in the Omnibus Election Code,” Drilon said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said to protect voters from COVID-19, the election period could be extended and larger voting areas could be used to allow for physical distancing.
Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, also said canceling the elections is unconstitutional
Poll watchdog groups also said there is no reason to postpone the May 2022 elections.
“We do not see any reason to postpone the 2022 NLE (national and local elections). Congressman (Mikey) Arroyo used the low number of registrants to justify his point that voters are afraid because of COVID-19. COVID-19 is not the reason for this low number. Filipinos are just like this, waiting (for) the deadline before taking action. That’s why there are many calls to register now,” Rona Caritos of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections said in a statement.
Caritos said other countries have managed to hold their elections this year despite the pandemic. She said there was ample time to prepare.
The Comelec also saw no reason to postpone the 2022 elections, even if the pandemic is not over by then.
“The election is mandated by the Constitution and can’t be easily changed,” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, speaking in Filipino on Dobol B sa News TV. “At this point we don’t see a need for it.”
He added that the Comelec’s preparations for the 2022 elections are based on the assumption that the pandemic would not be over by then.