MANILA – Is President Rodrigo Duterte out to extend his term beyond June 30, 2022?

This seems to be the view of some groups and leaders with only a month before the start of official campaign for national and local elective posts from the president down to the city and town councilors, although the administration is denying any such plan.

The view firmed up after a faction in the administration party PDP-Laban led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi petitioned the Commission on Elections seeking the reopening and extension of the filing of certificate of candidacy (COC) which already lapsed in October, with the substitution ending in November.

The Cusi faction also sought the postponement of the printing of official ballots.

The petition was immediately branded by the PDP-Laban wing of Senators Aquilino Pimentel, whose father founded the party, and Emmanuel Pacquiao, its ertswhile president, as a possible ploy to extend the term of President Duterte which by law should end on June 30, 2022.

Senatorial aspirant Lutgardo Barbo, who sits as vice chairman of the PDP-Laban wing led by  Pacquiao, said the petition filed by Cusi’s group is a last ditch effort to stall the election in 2022.

The Cusi-led faction, however, said they are only “exercising its rights under the election laws.”

On January 12, the Comelec en banc unanimously junked the PDP-Laban Cusi faction petition, pointing out that it was not meritorious.

The Comelec, however, has yet to release the detailed resolution explaining their vote.

There is another group urging the Comelec to postpone the May 9, 2022 elections due to the threat of the new coronavirus disease which the poll body has not resolved. The group is the Coalition for Life and Democracy which reiterated its call to the Comelec to act on its petition.

The constitutional provisions  state that unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for president, vice president should be held on the second Monday of May every six years (Article VII, Section 4) and the second Monday of May every three years for senators and  members of the House of Representatives (Article VI, Section 8).

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said even the constitutional provisions state that the May 2022 polls cannot be postponed like the barangay elections.

“[The date of] barangay elections is set by law enacted by Congress. The national elections is not enacted by some law. It is in the Constitution. Those who are saying that [national elections can be postponed like barangay elections], they have no idea what they are talking about,” Jimenez said.

Jimenez said that Comelec is capable of multitasking even amid the pending petitions seeking to cancel the certificate of candidacy or disqualification of certain 2022 hopefuls.

“Comelec is not a one trick pony. It can do many things at the same time,” he said.

“Tuloy ang halalan, hindi tayo made-delay (The elections are on and it won’t be delayed),” Jimenez added.

Constitutional and law experts, meanwhile, said the petition was without basis as the Constitution provides the terms of national officials led by the President, the end of the term and the schedule of elections.

What the petition seeks is clearly a violation of the Constitution and laws and, if pursued, would trigger an unprecedented constitutional crisis as the term of the President, Vice President, Senators and Congressmen would expire on  June 30, 2022.

While some Comelec officials agree with the opposition view, the body will have to convene en banc to make its official decision on still pending petition. Almost all the Comelec commissioners are appointees of  President Duterte and this could affect their decision, it was pointed out.

Aware of a possible impending constitutional crisis, leaders of the Senate started preparing for a possible “No-Election” (No-El) scenario should a faction of the PDP-Laban push to stall Eleksyon 2022, according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senator Panfilo Lacson.

“I would not like to think that the intention of the petition to reopen the filing of the COCs filed by the PDP-Laban is to delay the election on May 9, 2022 – and pave the way for the extension of the term of office of the President beyond June 30, 2022. This is something the 1987 Constitution clearly forbids,” said Lacson, a presidential aspirant for the 2022 elections.

“As I have suggested earlier to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and some of my colleagues, the Senate must not allow this to happen. We can preserve the presidential line of succession as provided under Art. VII Sec. 7 of the 1987 Constitution,” he added.

According to Lacson, a sitting senator whose term is valid until June 2025 should be elected as Senate President to ensure that the presidential line of succession will be followed. Under the law, the Senate President is the second in line to succeed the President of the Philippines after the Vice President. If the term of President Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo end on June 30, 2022 and their successors were not elected in the May 9, 2022 elections, the Senate President whose term as a senator ends in 2025 will be the next President.

“SP Sotto and Speaker Lord Allan Velasco are both stepping down along with the President and Vice President on June 30. If such a scenario becomes imminent, before Congress adjourns, we will elect a new Senate President whose term expires on June 30, 2025. He/she shall act as President until a new President or Vice President shall have been chosen and qualified,” Lacson said.

“Most of my colleagues have already agreed to this proposal, since democracy and the fundamental law of the land could be at risk,” he added.

While making the suggestion, Lacson clarified that he is not accusing the Duterte administration of “any malevolent attempt in this possible scenario.”

“What I’m only saying is that the Senate will always be the bulwark of our democracy, and I take pride in playing a major role in it,” he said.

Sotto, who runs as Lacson’s vice president for 2022 polls, confirmed that the upper chamber has discussed the matter.

“Yes, we have discussed that. It’s our idea of how to resolve the problem of vacancy in the leadership. We were ten steps ahead,” Sotto said.

He also explained that Senate is not blocking anything and the body is just “resolving a Constitutional problem if everyone’s term ends in June 30 and with no newly elected officials.”

“If elections are postponed, I will step down in the last week of May upon resumption and elect a new [Senate president] (while we still have 13 votes) who will be acting President until elections are held.  They cannot replace him or her by July 1st because they will only have 12 votes,” he said.