The week before the 2019 elections, Rappler was already preparing drafts of around 40 news articles, based on projected results of the midterms – so we could quickly tweak (as necessary) and break them as soon as the figures from the Commission on Elections came in.
Practically nothing surprised us. This is because in identifying which losses and victories were certain, and could therefore be prewritten, the newsroom was guided, in part, by the internal surveys and information that were also available to some political camps at the national and local levels.
Why am I sharing this?
Because the outcome was just what we expected, and what surprised us was how there were still political players and observers who seemed unprepared for the results. No opposition candidate – not even a reelectionist – won in the senatorial contest. A few decades-old dynasties were dislodged, most notably the Estradas of San Juan and Manila, the Eusebios of Pasig City, and the Ecleos of Dinagat Islands.
The final count in the senatorial contest pained many critics of the Duterte administration, as if publicly accessible pre-election polls (by Pulse Asia) from March 2018 and until less than two weeks before Election Day didn’t warn them of a possible sweep by administration bets and independent reelectionists. Anti-dynasty advocates were too thrilled by the slaying of so-called political dragons, and had to be given a reality check by governance specialists that those victories cut off only a few heads of a regenerating Hydra.
This paper is for them, as well as for citizens, organizations, and sectors who feel that, in the era of President Rodrigo Duterte, their advocacy for bigger democratic space, political and electoral reforms, and people empowerment in governance needs to be more relevant than ever.
This is for those who are looking ahead to 2022, and have realized the wisdom in what seasoned strategists always say: the day after an election is when you start preparing for the next.
I have two propositions: 1) acknowledge that President Duterte is not going to be a lame duck in the last half of his term; 2) strategically organize where you can and where it matters – at the local level.
Will there be elections in 2022?
To be clear, when I say 2022, I am not necessarily referring only to the presidential, vice presidential, senatorial, and local elections under the current unitary system of government, where the winners will be given 6- or 3-year terms, as provided in the 1987 Constitution.
Given the Duterte administration’s push for rewriting the 1987 Constitution1, particularly to effect a shift to a federal system, there are at least three other possible electoral exercises 3 years from now:
- A presidential election simultaneous with a plebiscite for a new federal constitution. This means that between May 2019 and May 2022, Congress must convene itself into a Constituent Assembly to draft and approve a new constitution. The new president will oversee the transition period, but there might be a debate, and a legal question, on how long the 2022 president will serve – elected under the 1987 Constitution, he or she should have a 6-year term,2 but the transitory provisions of the newly-ratified constitution might have a different provision.
- A presidential election simultaneous with the election of the members of the Constitutional Commission, which will draft the new constitution. This means it will be followed immediately by a plebiscite to ratify the new charter.
- The election of officials under a federal system. This means a plebiscite ratifying the new constitution shall have been conducted before 2022.
A no-elections scenario is also possible in 2022, if and when the Duterte government is able to pull some legal maneuvering. In July 2018, both the House Speaker (Pantaleon Alvarez at the time) and the Senate President (Vicente Sotto III, who holds the post to this date) both acknowledged that Congress can simply pass a law to postpone a regular election.3
They cited Article VI, Section 8, of the 1987 Constitution, which states, “Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election of the Senators and the Members of the House of Representatives shall be held on the second Monday of May.” The article on the executive branch of government, Article VII, has the same provision for the presidential and vice presidential elections. Section 4 states, “Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for President and Vice-President shall be held on the second Monday of May.”
This interpretation, however, is open to legal challenge, since the quoted provisions could be referring to a one-time setting of schedule of regular election cycles at the start of the implementation of the 1987 Constitution – the second Monday of May has been followed since the 1987 Constitution took effect. These provisions should then be considered in tandem with the ones that set the terms of the elected officials: 6 years4 or 3 years5 from June 30 after the elections. Any election postponement then that goes beyond June 30, 2022, would either be in violation of the Constitution, extending the term of current elected officials, or may result in a constitutional crisis, since all the elected positions would be vacant.
As you will read in the parts of this paper about the makeup of the legislature after the 2019 elections, the alternative scenarios will be made possible by a friendly Senate and House. Except for the no-elections scenario, all these other possible electoral exercises will either deliver the Duterte administration’s wishes or frustrate them, depending on how organized stakeholders and voters are at the local level – which is what the latter part of the paper discusses.
1 In an interview after he delivered his 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte said he preferred a one-time overhaul of the Constitution over piecemeal amendments. Camille Elemia, “No charter change, federalism push in Duterte’s SONA 2019,” Rappler, July 23, 2019, https://www.rappler.com/nation/236044-no-federalism-duterte-sona-2019-philippines.
2 Article VII, Section 4, 1987 Constitution, www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1987-constitution/.
3 Marvin Sy, “Senate President Tito Sotto says ‘no-elections’ in 2019 possible,” The Philippine Star, July 13, 2018, https://www.philstar.com/headlines/2018/07/13/1833111/senate-president-tito-sotto-says-no-elections-2019-possible
4 Article VII, Section 4, and Article VI, Section 4, Philippine Constitution of 1987, www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1987-constitution/.
5 Article VI, Section 7, Philippine Constitution of 1987, www.officialgazette.gov.ph/constitutions/1987-constitution/ .