In a radio interview, Alvarez said he hoped senators and congressmen could agree on scrapping the midterm elections in May next year to give lawmakers more time to work on the proposed constitution that would pave the way for a federal system of government.
Cesar Ramirez
People’s initiative eyed for 2019 ‘no-elections’
Jess Diaz, Delon Porcalla (The Philippine Star) - July 18, 2018 - 12:00am

No re-election for Duterte

MANILA, Philippines — If the Senate will not agree to postpone next year’s elections, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and his allies may initiate a people’s initiative so voters can directly propose a constitutional amendment that will stop the 2019 polls.

In a radio interview, Alvarez said he hoped senators and congressmen could agree on scrapping the midterm elections in May next year to give lawmakers more time to work on the proposed constitution that would pave the way for a federal system of government.

If not, he said citizens supporting federalism may resort to the people’s initiative mode of proposing a charter amendment to postpone the elections.

“That can be done, we have already studied that alternative,” he said.

He had announced his preference for the cancellation of the midterm elections in 2019 so Congress could focus on the proposed federal Constitution.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III initially agreed that lawmakers could constitutionally approve a law on postponement, but later changed his statement when Sen. Francis Escudero warned him that delaying the balloting beyond May next year could violate the Constitution.

Opposition congressmen have said President Duterte’s senator-allies ousted Aquilino Pimentel III as Senate president and replaced him with Sotto because the latter was agreeable to a 2019 “no-elections” scenario, while Pimentel was against it.

Under the Constitution, a people’s initiative is the third mode of proposing Charter change. There is a law on how to conduct such initiative, which requires a minimum number of voter-petitioners in every legislative district whose identities and signatures would have to be verified by the Commission on Elections.

During the Arroyo administration, a supporter of then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, lawyer Raul Lambino, launched an initiative to usher in a parliamentary system of government. The effort was later abandoned.

Still an Arroyo ally, Lambino now heads the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority based in Sta. Ana, Cagayan. He is one of several Arroyo allies appointed by President Duterte to juicy government posts.

In his radio interview, Alvarez insisted on no-el in 2019. “If we really want to amend the Constitution, this (no-el) is the most practical way of doing it to achieve our goal. We must have focus to allow extensive debate and deliberations and ensure that we would have a good draft of the proposed new constitution,” he said.

He expressed doubt Congress would have the time to draft a new charter if next year’s polls were not postponed.

He said lawmakers would be saddled with work after the opening of their third and last regular session next Monday, since they would be deliberating on the proposed national budget for 2019 and other measures, and would be filing their certificates of candidacy for next year’s elections in October. He all cited congressional breaks on All Souls’ Day and Christmas as well as the start of the campaign period in February or March.

Moreover, some lawmakers have voiced the need for a more vigorous information drive on federalism.

“The survey will serve as a challenge for us to continue intensifying the information drive about federalism that is key for progress in the countryside,” House Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu (Batangas) said.

Fellow Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia agreed. “Perhaps it is really a challenge to the House leadership to now disseminate as far and as much as possible, as much public information and public education in regards to this shift to a federal form of government.” 

Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunting believes it is now the “job of the consultative committee and Congress to frame the issues correctly, to provide avenues for discourse so that the people can make an informed choice.”

Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte also said the public should be educated about the issue.

“Local executives can kick off the information drive. Federalism is best for the country as the government is already familiar with this setup and can easily identify which areas require improvements,” the former three-time governor stressed.

“The information campaign on federalism should be intensified further so that the government would have enough time to educate the people about how this progressive form of government would be most beneficial for them,” the Bicolano lawmaker said.

Who will benefit

The Senate, for its part, started scrutinizing the proposed federal constitution drafted by the Concom.

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments resumed its hearings yesterday into various Charter change proposals.

Also pending in the committee, chaired by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, are three other measures—a proposed Senate joint resolution calling for amendments to the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution; a proposed Resolution of Both Houses calling for a constitutional convention to proposed amendments to the Constitution; a resolution calling on the Senate to convene into a constituent assembly, and an approved House resolution also calling on both chambers of Congress to convene into a constituent assembly.

“Is there really a public clamor for Charter change? If so, where is the evidence? Is federalism the only way to bring more development to the provinces?” Pangilinan asked at the start of the hearing.

“Why is Charter change being pushed? Who will benefit from this? Is term extension and no elections part of the agenda behind Charter change? Who will benefit from it the most?” he remarked.

The senators found issues in the Concom draft, including on division of powers between the national government and the proposed regional governments.

Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV asked retired chief justice Renato Puno, chairman of the Concom, whether the body discussed the scenario where only one chamber of Congress can start the process of amending the Constitution.

Puno replied that under the Concom’s draft, the voting of the Senate and the House of Representatives should vote separately if the two chambers will convene into a constituent assembly.

Some House leaders earlier said the chamber can push through with proposed amendment even without the Senate.

Sen. Sonny Angara, for his part, questioned the apparent inconsistency in the draft constitution, which disallowed any alteration of the proposed federal system but at the same time allows the government to form or abolish federal regions.

Angara also questioned possible ambiguities of the tax provisions of the draft constitution.

Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies said having a federal system does not mean the government will be decentralized with the regions having more powers, citing the cases of Canada, Germany, Indonesia and Malaysia, which all have federal governments.

Manasan also warned setting up a federal system will cost an additional P55 billion as the Concom proposes additional supreme courts, regional legislatures, higher number of senators and congressmen and many new offices.

“It (cost) will have to come from the pockets of taxpayers,” Manasan said.

She said the amount would go to the salaries of regional governors and vice governors, additional senators per region, additional members of the judiciary and their staff, as well as operating expense of their offices.

In the same hearing, University of the Philippines political science professor Gene Lacza Pilapil described Óthe draft constitution as “twin horrors” and a “reverse power-grab.” 

He said the Concom proposal would effectively remove Vice President Leni Robredo from office after its transitory provisions reflected President Duterte’s request to cut short his and her term in the event the draft is ratified in a plebiscite next year.

“These are twin horrors in constitutional engineering and are classic cases of brute political factors overriding any institutional design logic,” Pilapil said.

Real motive

For militant lawmakers, the rush to establish a federal government through Charter change could be a ploy by some incumbent officials to have their term extended and facilitate the opening of the economy to foreign control.

“We are warning those pushing for self-serving Charter change: the message is very clear – better stop it now, or face the peoples’ wrath. The bold writings are very clear on the wall: a majority of our people are opposed to Charter change and this is bound to grow as more of its provisions are exposed as anti-people and will only further the self-serving interests of the present elitist system,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said yesterday.

He said Cha-cha also aims to open the economy “to foreign control and plunder.”

He vowed that he and his militant colleagues would “expose the vested interests behind this Cha-cha.”

Recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed 67 percent of Filipinos opposed to Cha-cha and the proposed shift to a federal system of government.

Zarate’s militant colleagues Antonio Tinio and France Castro of Alliance of Concerned Teachers said the administration should expect more Filipinos to go against Cha-cha.

“As we expose more of the vested interests behind this Cha-cha, the Duterte administration should expect more Filipinos to oppose it and the federal system of government,” they said in a joint statement.

“The ordinary Filipino does not want this shift to a federal system of government. The Filipino people need land, job security, low prices of basic goods and services, and higher wages, policies that the draft constitution fail to provide,” they added.

In particular, Tinio and Castro criticized a provision in the envisioned federal charter that they said would allow foreigners to practice their profession in the country.

“Opening the practice of profession to foreigners will not only throw out Filipino professionals, it will also lead to worse deregulation in the affected industries and establishments, and increase the cost of their services to the Filipino people, especially basic social services like health and education,” they said.

Protect Filipino jobs

They said the Constitution should “protect Filipino professionals like nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, and architects and many others for the development and advancement of our society.”

“We must all oppose the proposed Charter change and federal system of government of the Duterte administration. It affects the poor, the professionals, workers, and farmers and will only benefit the politicians and the ruling elite,” they added. 

Amid concerns over lawmakers’ true motive for vigorously pushing for Charter change, the consultative committee (Concom) tasked to review the 1987 Constitution has formally included a provision in the draft federal constitution effectively prohibiting President Duterte from seeking re-election in the May 2022 polls.

The prohibition is contained in Article XXII Section 2.

The proposed charter also stated that Duterte and Vice President Leni Robredo will have to vacate their posts on June 30, 2022. The elections under the new charter will be held on the second Monday of May 2022. 

The President will call for the election of a transition president and vice president within six months from ratification of a new charter. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said this reinforces the President’s statement that he is not interested in extending his term.

“We thank the consultative committee for accommodating the President’s request to provide for an elected transition president,” Roque said.

Concom spokesman Ding Generoso, meanwhile, announced yesterday the release of the “official final copy” of a federal charter and declared that “all other copies in circulation, electronic or printed, official or not, are superseded by this copy.” Supposed final copies of the draft charter appeared online days before the Concom presented the document to Duterte. –With Robertzon Ramirez, Christina Mendez, Paolo Romero

NO ELECTIONS PANTALEON ALVAREZ PEOPLE'S INITIATIVE
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