Duterte bucks no-elections but won’t stop initiative

Christina Mendez, Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte bucks no-elections but wonât stop initiative
“If it’s people’s initiative, perhaps that is also the answer of the House leadership to the position of the President that he would not have any hand in it,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a press briefing yesterday. “If that’s people’s initiative, what can you do if it came from the people, right?”

MANILA, Philippines — While President Duterte opposes cancelling the May 2019 elections, contrary to the wishes of his lawmaker allies, he will not stop them from pursuing a people’s initiative to achieve their ends, his spokesman said yesterday.

“If it’s people’s initiative, perhaps that is also the answer of the House leadership to the position of the President that he would not have any hand in it,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a press briefing yesterday. “If that’s people’s initiative, what can you do if it came from the people, right?” 

Pressed if Duterte would allow a people’s initiative, Roque replied: “That’s the nature of people’s initiative.”

Duterte allies in Congress led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez raised the possibility of resorting to a people’s initiative to convince critics to agree to a cancellation of the polls.

Alvarez said “no-el” or no elections would give lawmakers enough time to work on establishing a federal system of government.

“Let’s put it this way. He has asked the consultative committee to include the provision that would ensure that he will not benefit from Charter change.  He would like to see all his allies do the same thing – not to benefit from charter change, leading by way of example,” Roque said, referring to Duterte. 

Roque reiterated that the President is not interested in becoming a transition president.

“I will quote the President, ‘I will not have any hand in that (no-el).’ He really is not in favor of no-el just for charter change... We would like to inform the people, that is the position of the President. I will not have any hand in no-el. He believes in democracy. He believes in elections,” Roque said in a press briefing.

“President Duterte has repeatedly said he wants Charter change towards federalism as his legacy to the people. After that, he will step down,” he added.

Roque said what Duterte wants is for the midterm polls to coincide with the referendum on the proposed new charter. He noted that Duterte has asked the consultative committee formed to propose amendments to the Constitution to come up with a provision barring him from seeking reelection.

The establishment of a federal government is one of the campaign promises of Duterte, who believes it would promote development in far-flung areas and address the roots of terrorism and rebellion.

Roque denied that efforts to establish a federal government were intended to cut short the term of Vice President and opposition leader Leni Robredo

“It’s nonsense. It’s clear the Palace does not give much attention to the career of the Vice President,” he said in Filipino. “VP Leni’s career is her own business.”

He reiterated the President’s commitment not to stay in power after the end of his term.

“If the President wanted to stay in power, he should have not asked the consultative committee to put a transitory provision, which would mandate the election of a transitory leader,” Roque pointed out.

He was reacting to concerns raised by former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. that Duterte and former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. can run for president and vice president, respectively, under the transitory provision of the draft federal charter.

“It would have been easy for him to stay in office, simply by hanging on to the office. Because the original Transitory Provision provided that he will be the transition leader,” Roque added.

He said, “it will not simply make sense” if Congress approves a clause allowing the President to run and choose his running-mate who is likely to be Marcos.

Earlier, Davide said Marcos would definitely win as vice president if he runs in tandem with Duterte.

Concom’s draft federal constitution bars Duterte from seeking reelection under a new form of government.

“I am so sure that he (Duterte) will run and he will win. Nobody can beat him. But he can, because it’s in tandem, choose a vice presidential candidate,” Davide told ANC.

“There is no sense of seeking for the provision to elect a transition leader if he wants to cling onto his post. All he had to do was to stay in office if that’s what he wants. So the former chief justice Davide is wrong, with all due respect,” Roque said. Roque explained that Duterte would be happy enough to serve his term and fulfill his promise of federalism.

 More assurances

The Palace spokesman also clarified they have already addressed the concerns raised by some government economists regarding federalism’s impact on the economy, specifically on the operations of local government units.

Roque explained that the executive branch is looking for ways to implement a Supreme Court ruling requiring national taxes to be included in the computation of internal revenue allotment (IRA).

He also stressed the P3.7-trillion budget for 2019 will remain the same.

Early this week, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the amount owed by the national government to LGUs could reach up to P1.5 trillion if the SC decides to enforce its ruling retroactively since the Local Government Code was implemented in 1992. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia also warned against rushing federalism, citing its possible devastating effects on regions not prepared for it.

Dominguez said the national government may devolve some of its programs and projects, and give LGUs the funds for these initiatives as IRA.

Roque agreed, saying that implementation of public services projects such as construction of farm-to-market roads, barangay roads, convergence projects – where national funds are used – would be devolved to the IRA of LGUs, instead of the line departments.

Based on a federal setup, the national government and the LGUs will equally share IRA.

“We will have to stick with the same budget, but when it comes to the alignment of national budget, 50 percent of it now will go to the local government units and only 50 percent will go to national government,” he said.

“That means 50 percent will go to IRA. So regional governments will have to make budget, and 50 percent as budget of the national government for activities which are expressly identified in the proposed federal constitution itself,” Roque said.

“So, there will be no expected deficit; and since there is no expected deficit, we don’t have any expected downgrade as far as our credit rating is concerned,” he said.

PDP-Laban, the president’s party, meanwhile also has its own draft federal charter whose salient features include easing restrictions on foreign investments, said Orion Perez Dumdum of the CoRRECT Movement.

“This is from the PDP-Laban; this is the president’s own party’s particular draft; this is the official draft of the PDP-Laban, his party,” Dumdum told The Chiefs, showing the book entitled “The Quest for a Federal Republic.”

 No-elections, federalism challenged

 Amid the “no-el” scenario being floated by administration allies, a group advocating electoral reforms has voiced opposition to postponing the 2019 polls.

“Periodic elections must be upheld and cannot be disregarded to make way for any agenda that is contrary to the interest of the Filipino people. We assert that the 2019 elections is an opportunity to articulate and act upon their collective aspirations through the electoral process,” Task Force Eleksyon said in a statement.

“We recognize that the conduct of the potential candidates is an influential aspect in allowing for the constituency to participate more fully in this democratic exercise,” the group added. “We will conduct political education to develop a citizenry that will actively and meaningfully engage in the electoral exercise and the democratic process,” the task force said. 

Another advocacy group said the federalism being pushed by the administration appeared to be more pro-businessmen than pro-people.

“Perhaps one reason why they want to change (the Constitution) is for the laws of the Philippines to be more favorable to companies in the private sector,” Power for People Coalition spokesman Gerry Arances told The STAR yesterday.

He cited in particular Duterte’s issuance of Executive Order 30 last year, promoting coal and fossil fuel production.

“It is clear that this EO favors the investors and not the citizens,” he said.

The order, he explained, would streamline the approval of applications for these coal-producing businesses to become coal suppliers for the government’s upcoming energy projects.

“The problem is that people living in the coal plant areas were not consulted… and that the indigenous people, whose language is different from ours, should give their consent within 30 days,” Arance said.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s largest labor group, also voiced its rejection of the proposed federal system. 

“In substance, it clearly favors elite, capitalist interest. Further, we are alarmed if the establishment and enforcement of the labor standards will not be under the jurisdiction of the federal state and instead be relegated to the regional level,” TUCP said in a statement. Mayen Jaymalin, Ghio Ong, Robertzon Ramirez





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