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Palace: No stopping barangay polls.

The barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections will be held as scheduled in May, Malacanang said on Monday, disputing Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon's warning that President Duterte's allies in the House of Representatives are plotting to postpone the two ballotings as a first step to extending their terms.

Drilon said in a radio interview on Sunday that the term extension would be accomplished by postponing the barangay and SK elections and holding them simultaneously with a plebiscite on a railroaded federal Constitution in October or November.

For the plot to succeed, Drilon said the Senate had to agree to the postponement, but there was no more time to pass a law that would authorize it because Congress was going on Lenten recess in two weeks' time.

'Strange, speculative'

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing on Monday that Drilon's comments on Sunday were 'strange' and 'very speculative.'

Roque said Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III himself said in an event on Friday that the Senate had no plans of postponing the barangay elections for a third time.

'While there is a pending bill in the House filed by Congressman Johnny Pimentel (of Surigao del Sur) to suspend anew the barangay elections, Senator Pimentel declared before the audience of 4,000 that there was no support in the Senate for another postponement of the barangay elections. That means, as far as Congress is concerned, barangay elections will push through,' Roque said.

'No more time'

Following Drilon, Pimentel reiterated on Monday that there was no more time to pass a law that would allow the postponement of the village and youth elections, as there were only 12 days left before Congress went on recess.

Pimentel said there was no compelling reason to postpone the barangay and SK elections and that was why he did not file a bill that would authorize the postponement.

'Everyone is prepared, the Commission on Elections is ready [for the elections] and so are the candidates and the voters,' Pimentel told reporters.

The two elections have already been postponed twice, from May 2016 to October 2017, then to May this year.

Postponement bills filed

Davao City Rep. Karlo Alexei Nograles confirmed on Monday that two measures had been filed in the House for the postponement of the barangay and SK elections.

Nograles, chair of the House appropriations committee, said the measures were pending on the committee on suffrage.

He said one of the bills proposed to postpone the barangay elections to October, while the other would move the balloting to May next year.

'One of the reasons [for the postponement] is to hold it simultaneously with ... the ratification of a new Constitution,' Nograles said.

He denied, however, that the postponement was aimed at canceling the midterm elections next year.

Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice, in a radio interview on Sunday, said the synchronization of the barangay and SK polls with a plebiscite for a railroaded federal Constitution would allow the cancellation of the midterm elections.

Erice explained that the proposed new Constitution would have transitory provisions that would authorize the term extension of incumbent congressmen and local officials.

If the new Constitution is ratified in the plebiscite, no midterm elections will be held because the terms of congressmen and local officials will be extended until the election of new, federal officials.

Sought for comment on Monday, Erice said he agreed with Roque that the proposal to postpone the barangay and SK elections wouldn't fly in the Senate.

'I agree with him. I think the effort is just in the House,' Erice said.

Roque said President Duterte did not want to rush the amendment of the 1987 Constitution.

He said Mr. Duterte wanted a thorough discussion on any proposal to amend the Constitution for a shift to federalism.

Consultative committee

The President has formed a consultative committee that will propose amendments to the Constitution, Roque said.

'That means the President would prefer that Congress await the outcome of the work product of the [consultative committee] before it is even tackled in Congress,' he said.

'It is not the President's purpose to railroad it knowing how important it is, revising no less than the fundamental law of the land, and the people will be given ample time and opportunity to debate and ponder ... the proposed revisions, whatever they may be,' he added.

The consultative committee, headed by retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno and composed of other legal luminaries, has six months to complete its recommendations, which the President is expected to submit to Congress.

Congress may or may not follow the proposals.

Tighter timetable

Drilon said he remained convinced that the House wanted the barangay and SK elections held simultaneously with the plebiscite for a new Constitution, noting the filing of two bills for that purpose.

Rep. Johnny Pimentel's bill, which was filed on Jan. 31, sought to synchronize the two elections with the plebiscite in October, Drilon said.

The bill filed by Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali on Feb. 13 would have the two elections held simultaneously with the plebiscite in May 2019, he said.

A third bill, similar to that of Pimentel's, has been filed by ANAC-IP Rep. Jose Panganiban Jr.

'So really there's a serious effort to postpone the barangay elections and piggyback the constitutional amendments, which will be railroaded in that kind of timetable,' Drilon said.

The timetable has become even tighter, Drilon said, noting that under the 1987 Constitution, the plebiscite cannot be held earlier than 60 days or later than 90 days after the approval of the amendments.

'The only way to do it is to railroad it,' he said.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Feb 27, 2018
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