THE members of Congress should know that every time they propose the cancellation or postponement of an election, the public suspects an ulterior reason. In the past, this reason was a desire to extend the terms of incumbent officials without going through a reelection.
It does not help if the reason given this time is that no-el – no election – is needed to speed up the shift to federalism through amendment of the Constitution. A survey conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS) last March said only 27 percent of Filipinos are aware of federalism and only 37 percent said they would support it, against 29 percent opposed, and 34 percent undecided.
For our legislators now to cancel elections for federalism would not sit well with the voters who value their elections. Many feel that these are the only times they are listened to by politicians. Elections are virtual festivals with considerable campaign funds funding so many activities. Politicians would be courting such great condemnation if they would cancel elections for any reason.
There is also a constitutional reason the next midterm elections must be held as scheduled. Senators are elected to a term of six years, congressmen to three years, and may not serve beyond these terms unless they are duly reelected. Without elections, there would be no House and only half a Senate.
In his proposal to cancel the elections in May 2019, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said that with its present schedule, Congress as a Constituent Assembly would have to work double-time on the draft prepared by the Consultative Committee named by President Duterte, while, at the same time, holding hearings on the national budget. Then by October this year, he said, members of the House seeking reelection would be filing their certificates of candidacy. After that would be the Christmas season in December. By January 2019, the senators, who are national candidates, would have going around the country. “So how are we going to revise or amend the Constitution? If we want to finish, for me, we need to rethink the timetable.”
Congress, meeting as a Constituent Assembly, can very well set up a timetable and organize itself to complete the work of fashioning a new Constitution if it wants to. Much of the basic work has already been done by the Consultative Committee headed by former Chief Justice Renato Puno. Any changes can be swiftly decided by Congress as Consultative Assembly, with its pro-administration super-majority.
It can very well approve the new federal constitution within the suggested timetable. It has 10 months between today and the middle of next year. It does not need to postpone the mid-term elections set by the Constitution for May 2019.