“My target is to hold it during the barangay elections so we can save on funds. But if, for example, we are not able to comply with the requirements of the law in time, then we will adjust (the timetable),” Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said. Philstar.com/File Photo

Speaker slows down Cha-cha train
Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — In a change of tack, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez yesterday stepped back from the House of Representatives’ original plan to hold a plebiscite simultaneous with the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections on May 14.

Alvarez also said he was just joking when he warned congressmen and local executives that the House would cut off funding for those who refused to support the shift to federalism.

In an interview over the ABS-CBN News Channel, he said the House is open to moving the plebiscite – where Filipino voters will be asked whether they accept federalism or not – from this year to the May 2019 midterm senatorial elections.

“My target is to hold it during the barangay elections so we can save on funds. But if, for example, we are not able to comply with the requirements of the law in time, then we will adjust (the timetable),” Alvarez said.

The House, he added, is flexible enough to also move its timetable to 2019 if other unforeseen circumstances cause delays.

But Alvarez is unflinching on the possibility that the House could convene into a constituent assembly and propose changes to the Constitution even if the Senate refuses to participate or insists on voting separately for the purpose.

“It is very clear: ‘The Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.’ Of all its members mean all of us,” he said, citing Article 17, Section 1, Paragraph 1 of the 1987 Constitution.

He reminded the public that federalism was one of the four key campaign promises of President Duterte, three of which Alvarez said are already being carried out: the campaigns against illegal drugs, criminality and corruption.

“There is substantial compliance on the three. For me, this federalism is an advocacy of the party, of PDP-Laban. It has long been there. It was there even during the time of Manong Nene Pimentel. It has been the advocacy of the party,” Alvarez said of the former Senate president.

He clarified though that even if the House could on its own convene as a constituent assembly, its leaders prefer that the Senate join them in the process. He added that he is yet to talk with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III about the issue.

“We are not required to go on a joint session,” Alvarez said, noting that senators are necessarily included in the bicameral nature of Congress and that it would be up to the senators to attend the House-initiated con-ass or not.

“Remember, we are not passing an ordinary law, we are proposing to amend the Constitution. The proposal need not go through the President. There is no requirement for the President to sign it,” he added.

The PDP-Laban stalwart and leader of the 292-man House believes that the only requisite Congress has to comply with is the three-fourths provision of the Constitution.

He explained that the House committee on constitutional amendments led by southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado held several public consultations across the country since 2016 and has already brought the issue to the plenary.

“Now, it would be up to the people to approve or disapprove our proposal. We don’t have the luxury of time,” Alvarez said, adding that the House will vote “within the year” because of the constitutional provision that states “any amendment 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.”

Just joking

Alvarez also took a 180-degree turn on his threat to declare a “zero budget” for local officials who will not toe the federalism line of the House of Representatives, saying it was only meant as a “joke.”

“When you give a speech, you also have to crack a joke. That was it. I am not sure why they considered it seriously,” he told Davila in Filipino.

He was earlier quoted during a speech in Iloilo City where he was said to have threatened to give zero budget to provinces not supportive of the administration’s push to shift to a federal form of government.

Alvarez was in Iloilo last week to administer, as secretary-general of the ruling party, the oath of local officials led by Gov. Arthur Defensor who joined the ruling PDP-Laban party in simple rites held at the Pototan Coliseum.

While his threat was meant to be a joke, he clarified that he could do it. He cited as example the Makabayan bloc and the so-called Magnificent 7 who got zero allocations for their districts and constituents.

In Negros Occidental, former governor Rafael Coscolluela asked: “Who gave the Speaker the right to treat the budget like it was his money? This is nothing but undisguised blackmail.”

But 3rd District Rep. Alfredo Benitez defended Alvarez, saying the latter has the “prerogative or right to decide on who will be given or not.”

Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. and Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia also do not see the need for a threat as they both support the shift to a federal government.

“It’s time we make the Constitution dynamic and responsive to the call of the times,” said Leonardia who has called for several seminars to educate people about the proposal.

Marañon recalled that he has always been for federalism—the reason he did not support the Constitution adopted during the term of former president Corazon Aquino.

“I was for federalism but people did not listen to us then. Cory was a very popular president,” he said.

Benitez and Rep. Stephen Paduano of Abang Lingkod party-list also debunked accusations that Charter change is being railroaded in the House of Representatives, calling this “unfair.”

They reasoned that the fact that consultations were made across the country to ensure that people’s sentiments are heard proves that the House is not railroading the move.

Benitez added that the government must first explain the reason and the purpose of the shift so they will be informed. Constituents also need to know how the shift could benefit them in the long run.

“If we can answer that, and people see it as a better form of government, maybe that is the proper time we have to push it,” he said.

He added that the majority in the practice of a democratic institution would always win. – With Gilbert Bayoran

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