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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, January 11, 2018
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No elections?


Well, that's good news and bad news, depending on where you sit in the political landscape. The political ward leaders will definitely be unhappy because there will be no election funds that flow to their hands and control every election period.

No election will be glad tidings to the incumbents because they will stay longer in office without spending for it while the intending candidates who think they are a shoo-in will be grinding their teeth for a lost chance.

But postponing the local elections that include the mid-term polls for the members of the Senate will not be as easy as changing the schedule of barangay or Kabataang Barangay elections. The Congress must amend the Constitution.

Moreover, there are talks that the postponement of the elections scheduled in May 2019 or just a little over a year from now will not mean all those in elective office, except congressmen and senators will stay put until new elections are held.

It is not yet clear but President Duterte might do the Aquino trick - dismiss all local elective officials and replace them with officers in charge. Talks say that the first to go would be those who have cases in the Sandigan because the President wants to clean the government of corrupt officials. The question is, can he do this arbitrarily?

Under ordinary situation he cannot but then talks of the proclamation of a revolutionary government are floating around with activists allied with the President in the forefront. They might be working for this scenario hoping they would be appointed OICs in the same way that President Corazon Aquino kicked out all elected local officials and appointed her Yellow Army in a purge in 1986. Aquino was able to do that by taking revolutionary powers.

The postponement can be done fast once the Congress convenes as a Constituent Assembly and adopts the OIC scheme in a transition period from the present unitary to federal form of government. The replacement of local officials with minions that will support whatever Malacañang says is crucial for the approval of the proposed new constitution.

How the postponement of the election without resorting to revolutionary or martial law powers is a question that has to be resolved if the nation is to take a peaceful path to change.

The no-el scenario is not without opposition. First, several senators are against it although they are beneficiaries of an extended term. Most congressmen are naturally in favor because even if the local elective officials were replaced, they will stay in office to work on the transition government.

The senators are also against a constituent assembly mainly because of the issue whether the congressmen and senators will vote separately or in concert. If it is the latter the senators will have only 24 votes and thus no matter the wisdom of their position they will be overwhelmed by the congressmen.

In that case the Senate will no longer be equal and independent of the House of Representatives. There will be a deadlock unless the House agrees to separate voting with the danger that what the House approves the Senate will reject. In this scenario the amendment of the Constitution could take more than the expected “fast track” of one year or less. This issue alone can throw a monkey wrench into the proponents' timetable.

Granting this ticklish issue is resolved there can emerge large groups against tinkering with the Constitution and the matter will go up to the Supreme Court. Sadly the court is a house divided and ambitious justices smelling the possible impeachment of the Chief Justice and with an eye to replace her can yield to the wishes of Malacanang. Or if they have no ambition (who hasn't?) they can be cowed to submission for fear somebody might just dig some dirt enough for an impeachment.

The shortcut to the amendment and federalism is martial law or revolutionary government, but they have pitfalls.

President Duterte is riding high on the crest of popular support, at least for now. Whether this support will be maintained once the impact of new taxes hits the public we don't know but the politica de estomago canchange the scenario.

So far there is too little information to generate action. Is this for a reason? There probably is: election we will have in 2019, says President Duterte.*




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