No Election Scenario: Media’s Critical Analysis Required
THE NO-election scenario floated by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in an interview on ANC on January 3 was reported in the evening news programs without much comment.
TV reports were limited to the view of the Duterte administration and the statements made by three leading officials of President Duterte.
Alvarez said that rewriting the Philippine Constitution from unitary to federal is the top priority of the Congress this year. In an interview, Karen Davila, asked about a no-election scenario to which Alvarez responded: “Anything is possible…Let’s be practical. Pag nag-shift ka (if you shift) into a different form of government, unitary to federal, you need a transition government.”
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III was less welcoming of the idea of “No-el,” saying “If there are scheduled elections under the existing Constitution, then this must be followed.” (“Alvarez open to cancellation of 2019 polls during transition to federalism”) But Pimentel also said that the term of Duterte could be extended “if he is amenable to it, if really necessary during the transition period to Federalism and since that extension will be part of the new Constitution, the new Constitution is approved by the people themselves.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that President Rodrigo Duterte wants to cut short his term rather than lengthen it.
Reporting these pronouncements, primetime newscasts 24 Oras (GMA-7) and Aksyon (TV5) merely recorded what was said by the three officials. Without any analysis, the news about the plan to do away with the mid-term elections and to work out a transition period which extended the terms of the incumbent officials could be taken by the public as just another legal decision best left to their elected officials. These reports did not raise the questions that people should have been asking about the radical proposal.
The plan as described clearly ignores the present laws providing for synchronized and simultaneous elections for national and elective officials on schedule, once every three years. (Republic Act (RA) 7056) A mid-term election is scheduled in 2019, but as Alvarez envisions, it is something that may not happen. Such reports present the plan as normal and acceptable.
Pointing out how the plan deviates from the law would have provided context as well as the necessary facts. Without providing the above, the media acts as a compliant reporter of these plants, priming citizens’ consent to the party in power, without question, without critical analysis.
CMFR cheers the effort of late night newscast Bandila (ABS-CBN 2) which reported how other lawmakers viewed the scenario. The report included the views of Senators Franklin Drilon, and Panfilo Lacson. Drilon said that this revealed that the motive of Federalism is to extend the term of the President. Lacson expressed doubts, saying it may be hard for the Congress to meet the target deadline for plebiscite which is May this year.
Print reports the following day included the views of Senator Francis Pangilinan and Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin. Pangilinan said that the Congress cannot be trusted with the task of amending the Constitution citing the way it handled certain issues such as drug-related killings and the impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno. For Villarin,“It reveals the true intentions of the Duterte administration to perpetuate themselves in power. It speaks volumes of how they have arrogated power unto themselves and instilled fear upon the people who oppose their position.” (“Speaker Alvarez: ‘No-elections’ possible in 2019“)
Unfortunately, using only the voices of the opposition tends to present the issue in the context of partisan politics. The media as an independent reporter should include information about what the laws say and point out that several national and local elections had been governed by these laws in the past.
Reports in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star added information about the Constitutional Assembly, which Alvarez said would be the way Congress would revise the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
Newsroom’s (CNN Philippines) “No Election Scenario Looms Amid Push for Federalism” later also presented the insights of Atty. Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. According to Monsod, Alvarez’s timeline is too tight, unless Congress railroads its passage.
He also warned about the dangers of the authoritarian shift, with the concentration of power in the federal government or the president. Monsod added that before a plebiscite is held, the public needs to understand federalism and how it works as well as the provisions of the current constitution.