Duterte appointee to lead Comelec as plebiscite looms

MANILA, Philippines – With the resignation of elections chief Andres Bautista, an appointee of President Rodrigo Duterte will lead the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as the agency prepares for a possible plebiscite for a new Philippine constitution.

The new Comelec chairman will serve the unexpired term of Bautista, an Aquino appointee, until February 2, 2022. He or she will become Duterte's first appointee to the poll body. 

Bautista's successor will also oversee a plebiscite if Congress or a constitutional convention succeeds in proposing amendments to, or revisions of, the 1987 Constitution.

Charter change is a pet project of Duterte, a long-time Davao City mayor, who wants to push for a federal form of government.

Constitutional amendments can only take effect, however, when majority of voters ratify these changes through a plebiscite run by the Comelec. 

"Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution under Section 1 hereof shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than sixty days nor later than ninety days after the approval of such amendment or revision," the 1987 Constitution says.

"Any amendment under Section 2 hereof shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the certification by the Commission on Elections of the sufficiency of the petition," the charter adds.

Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez confirmed that the Comelec is tasked to handle a possible plebiscite to amend the Constitution.

Aside from overseeing the plebiscite, the new Comelec chairman will also handle the senatorial elections in 2019 and the presidential elections in 2022. 

The elections chief will also have to address issues related to the poll protest of defeated vice presidential bet Ferdinand Marcos Jr against Vice President Leni Robredo. 

Two commissioners retiring soon

Duterte will have a free hand in choosing the Comelec chairman after Bautista on Wednesday, October 11, tendered his resignation effective December 31. Bautista was impeached by the House of Representatives on the same day. 

Duterte will soon appoint not only a new Comelec chairman, but also two new Comelec commissioners in the 7-member body.

The terms of Comelec Commissioners Christian Lim and Arthur Lim will expire in February 2018.

By February 2020, Duterte will have to appoint two more new Comelec members as Commissioners Luie Guia and Al Parreño retire.

By February 2022, shortly before the elections to pick Duterte's successor, all Comelec members would have been Duterte appointees as Commissioners Rowena Guanzon and Sheriff Abas finish their terms.

If the 1987 Constitution is followed, Duterte finishes his term by June 30, 2022.

Election watchdog Lente vowed to keep close watch on Bautista's replacement.  

"Moving forward, Lente would initiate a Comelec Appointments Watch to ensure that whoever will replace Chairperson Bautista (and the two other retiring commissioners in February) will be someone who is independent, competent, and will uphold democracy," Lente said. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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