THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday shot down plans to amend the Constitution to pave the way for President Benigno Aquino 3rd to extend his term beyond 2016, saying there is no more time to tinker with the Charter.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the national elections will proceed in 2016 because the only way for the electoral exercise to be postponed is through Charter change.
“Whatever happens, there is no way that there can be no elections. There may be some adjustments, but we will have elections in 2016,” the Comelec chief told reporters after attending a hearing by the Senate committee on finance on the proposed P16.9-billion budget of the poll body for 2015.
Brillantes said the Comelec has been preparing for the 2016 elections.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) earlier accused Malacañang of floating a no- election scenario as part of attempts to extend the term of the President.
Aquino, in a television interview, had said he is open to Charter change or Cha-cha to allow him to seek another term.
But Brillantes said Congress cannot suspend the elections in 2016 because that would be unconstitutional.
”The only way to stop the elections is to amend the Constitution. I don’t think there is time to amend the Constitution,” the Comelec chairman noted.
UNA Secretary General Toby Tiangco claimed that the recent remarks of Malacañang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda on the possibility of a “no-election” scenario in 2016 reflect efforts of the Aquino administration and the Roxas-Abad (Manual Roxas 2nd-Florencio Abad) faction in the ruling Liberal Party (LP) to derail democratic processes in order to perpetuate Aquino in power.
The opposition believes that the dismal showing of their 2016 bets in the surveys is the reason why the administration has floated term extension through Cha-cha.
Meanwhile, Brillantes said the poll body will be using Optical Mark Reader (OMR) system technology in the 2016 elections. OMR employs the same technology used by the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
The poll body is also planning to use the PCOS machines that were used in the 2013 elections. The Comelec chief, however, stressed the need to procure 6,000 additional counting machines to augment the 80,000 machines in its inventory.
Stop Cha-cha debates
At the House of Representatives, an ally of the President sought the suspension of debates on constitutional amendments that seek to lift the 40-percent restriction on foreign ownership of public utilities.
Rep. Walden Bello of Akbayan party-list made the call during his interpellation of Rep. Mylene Garcia-Albano, who defended a resolution calling for economic amendments in her capacity as the chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments.
Bello said lawmakers should stop their debates on the issue since the government is yet to solve the country’s land distribution and titling problems. He cited the uncompleted Cadastral Survey in 1913 that would have determined boundaries of each city, municipality and province as stated by the President in his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.
“This [Charter change] will make it more difficult to address this problem. It is pretty clear that this seeks to undermine, if not subvert, the constitutional ban on foreign ownership of land. We should really postpone this for practical reasons. We should not put the cart before the horse,” Bello pointed out.
Albano-Garcia, however, disagreed, saying the completion of the Cadastral Survey is already being addressed by the Aquino administration.
“Our objective here is not to grant full foreign ownership of land. We just want to allow Congress to have certain flexibility in formulating economic policies and give some leeway to government to address the exigencies of the times. I don’t agree that we should hold this in abeyance while other problems are being addressed by the executive department,” she added.
But Bello refused to back down, saying China and Vietnam managed to score economic growth despite a constitutional ban on foreign ownership of land, among others.
“These are the two of the most dynamic economies in East Asia. The ban on foreign ownership is not a hindrance to development and the foreign investors have learned to live with it and move forward,” the lawmaker noted.
But Garcia-Albano countered that China’s ban on foreign ownership is not really absolute since it allows foreigners to lease land for as long as 99 years.