Senators reject House Speaker's push for 'no-elections,' term extension

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — Majority of the senators oppose House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez's proposal to scrap the 2019 midterm elections and just extend the terms of incumbent officials.

"Majority of the senators, even those running for re-election will fight tooth and nail any attempt to cancel the 2019 midterm elections simply because it is wrong and self-serving," Senator Panfilo Lacson said in a statement Thursday.

This is in response to Alvarez's remark that Congress should pass a law postponing the May 2019 polls so that lawmakers can focus on drafting a new constitution that allows for a shift to a federal form of government.

The House leader said if the Senate would not agree, advocates of federalism could instead launch a people's initiative calling for the postponement of the polls.

Section 2, Article 17 of the 1987 Constitution states that amendments may be "directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein."

Lacson said the move still requires Senate participation, since it is Congress that shall provide for its implementation.

Once polls are postponed, Alvarez said incumbent lawmakers and local chief executives will remain in power until the next elections under a federal government.

People's initiative

Several other senators also rejected Alvarez's proposal, saying it is not at all feasible.

Senator Grace Poe said it would be a "lengthy and tedious process," and took a swipe at Alvarez.

"The Speaker should not try any shortcuts and tricks if he believes the proposed charter is judicious and a true solution to the needs of our people," Poe said.

Alvarez, an ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, has been calling for constitutional change to make way for federalism. This was among Duterte's campaign promises, saying it would pave the way for more equitable distribution of wealth and political power and bring peace in Mindanao.

Senator Francis Escudero likewise said the Commission on Elections would have to verify each of the thousands of signatures before it can schedule a referendum for the entire public to vote on scrapping the elections.

"[This can even] be questioned before the Courts by any interested party if it is indeed sufficient in form and substance," Escudero said.

He said he cannot understand why Alvarez "seems obsessed" with a no-election scenario, when even Malacañang has said the polls should push through as stated by the Constitution, in 2019.

Senator Koko Pimentel advised Alvarez, his partymate at PDP-Laban, to think twice about his proposal.

"That's too cumbersome a procedure hence time-consuming," Pimentel said. He admits, however, Alvarez as House Speaker, would be perfect to lead such an initiative.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian added that the people's initiative would just be "a waste of resources," while Senator Kiko Pangilinan said these funds "can be put to better use."

Senators Ralph Recto, JV Ejercito, and Leila de Lima also expressed their disagreement with Alvarez's proposal.

De Lima, a staunch critic of the Duterte administration, said floating the possibility of a no-election scenario may be a "sinister plot" to get local government officials' support for federalism, since their terms would be extended for three more years.