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No-el in 2019 possible – Sotto

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By Xave Gregorio

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III backtracked on his earlier statement against the postponement of the 2019 elections to give way for charter change (Chacha), saying now that Congress may hold off the polls next year.

Sotto, after being corrected by staff, cited Article VI, Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution which states that senators and members of the House of Representatives shall be elected every second Monday of May “unless otherwise provided by law.”

Through messaging app Viber, Sotto initially told Senate reporters Wednesday (July 11) that postponing the 2019 elections for Chacha is only possible if the present Constitution is amended.

But the Senate President changed his tune a day after in the presence of members of the consultative committee (ConCom) formed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We do not need a plebiscite to postpone the elections. A law by both houses of Congress may be able to postpone the elections,” Sotto said in an interview after the ConCom turned over a copy of the proposed new constitution to the upper chamber.

He added that Congress may suspend elections if it is “indeed necessary” and if they fail to finish their work as a constituent assembly (ConAss) by December.

For now, Sotto said the Senate would be prioritizing to call for Congress to convene into a ConAss — another shift in his position, as he earlier said Chacha is not in the Senate’s calendar.

“If we indeed pass a joint resolution calling for [a ConAss,] then we can decide if we can finish it by December or not and postpone [elections.] Then we can pass a law postponing elections,” he said.

However, Senator Francis Escudero said the constitutional provision Sotto is citing only refers to the date of the polls and insisted that Congress has no power to hold off national elections.

“Walang kapangyarihan ang Kongreso sa Saligang Batas na ipagpaliban ang halalan sa 2019. Kung saka-sakali, panibagong bullet amendment ‘yun sa Saligang Batas na hindi ko alam kung paano gagawin o magagawa,” Escudero told reporters at the weekly Kapihan sa Senado.

He said the Constitution only allows Congress to move the date of the elections of senators and congressmen, but legislators cannot postpone for as long as three years as it would go against the intent of the framers of the Charter.

Even with copies of the draft new constitution are in the hands of Congress leaders, the bid of changing the constitution to shift to federalism is still uncertain, with Escudero and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri admitting that it would not gather enough votes in the Senate.

Sotto said he would reproduce copies of the proposed federal constitution for distribution to other senators, who would be called to a caucus before Duterte’s State of the Nation Address to discuss the provisions in the proposed new charter and their next move on the Duterte-backed measure.