Speaker Alvarez proposes no-elections in 2019 for federalism
It was a contradiction of his earlier pronouncement that the polls should proceed as scheduled despite the ongoing push for federalism.
Cesar Ramirez

Speaker Alvarez proposes no-elections in 2019 for federalism

Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - July 12, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If the administration wants to keep its focus on shepherding the country to federalism, it should cancel the midterm elections in May next year to make sure lawmakers would be available to tackle the necessary changes in the Charter, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said yesterday.

It was a contradiction of his earlier pronouncement that the polls should proceed as scheduled despite the ongoing push for federalism.

“How can we have quorum? Of course congressmen will campaign – it’s elections, it’s survival,” Alvarez told reporters in Filipino. “So how can we work on proposal to revise the Constitution?”

The deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy is in October.

“If we really want to get it done, we really need to carefully study the timetable,” he said in Filipino.

He made the remarks after the 25-man consultative committee (Concom) led by retired chief justice Reynato Puno submitted its draft federal charter.

Cancelling the 2019 elections, according to Alvarez, would be practical as it would pave the way for an easier transition to the proposed federal form of government.

The Speaker said lawmakers would be very busy in the next few months, especially with the coming third State of the Nation Address of President Duterte on July 23, the filing of candidacy in October and the start of the campaign season in February.

“Focus is really needed, we can’t do it (Charter change) recklessly,” he said.

Last January, Alvarez ruled out scrapping the May elections amid the push for federalism after initially raising the no-election scenario.

House Majority Leader Rodolfo Farinas also said the House would need more time to tackle Charter change as he cited the four months that it took the Concom to finish its draft constitution. “Can we do it in two months? Then we really have to rush it. If the leadership decides to have the proposal implemented, then we will really work on it,” Fariñas said in Filipino.

The House leadership, he stressed, has yet to pore over the contents of the draft federal charter.

Fariñas said they would have to wait for the official transmittal of the draft charter from the Office of the President before they could work on it.

The House committee on constitutional amendments has also prepared its own draft federal charter.

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III scoffed at Alvarez’s statement regarding canceling the May 2019 elections.

He said postponing or scrapping the elections next year would not be possible without amending Article VI Section 8 of the Constitution, which sets the elections of senators and members of the House of Representatives every second Monday of May every three years.

Sotto said he strongly doubts his colleagues would support Alvarez’s suggestion.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, for his part, said the administration – in its attempt to amend the Constitution – was  assuming that Filipinos or a majority of them want Charter change at this time.

“Instead of amending the Constitution now, which may result in a no-el (no elections) in 2019, would they want government to address first issues as rising prices, poverty, EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and peace and order, etcetera?” Drilon said.

He described the Concom’s draft as just a “reference” to be used by Congress, if and when lawmakers decide to start the process of amending the Constitution.

He said the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, chaired by opposition Sen. Francis Pangilinan, held hearings the past several months centered on three questions: Is there a need to amend the 1987 Constitution; If yes, what is the preferred mode, constitutional convention or constituent assembly? If by constituent assembly, will it be separate or joint voting for the two chambers.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV urged the public to be vigilant, saying the Charter change being pushed by the administration “could deprive people of the right to choose their next leaders.”

Meanwhile, the Concom recommended the inclusion of the past four presidents in the 18-man transition team that it agreed to organize to clear the way for federalism.

Puno said an elected transitory president will head the transition committee, 10 members of which will be experts in economics, law and governance development, among others.

Ex-officio members will include the transitory vice president, the sitting Senate president, House speaker and the four previous presidents, Puno said.

The composition of the committee reflects a “more balanced” sharing of power, he told reporters.

“They will be the ones to see to it that the shift to federal government will be as smooth as possible,” he added. – With Paolo Romero, Robertzon Ramirez

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