Duterte’s first bill in Congress

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 - The Philippine Star

With fixed term of office, incoming President Rodrigo Roa Duterte acknowledges he must not lose precious time if he is to achieve the program of government he vowed to pursue in the next six years. The incoming president officially reports for duty at Malacañang to take over the reins of government starting next month from outgoing President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III.

Still crafting time-bound goals, the incoming chief executive must undertake them in coordination with, if not the cooperation of, the two equal branches of government – the Supreme Court (SC) and Congress.

During The STAR roundtable with then front-running presidential candidate last May 4, Duterte promised to become a very consultative leader to gain popular support for his policy initiatives and programs of government.

Duterte vowed to convene immediately the National Security Council to draw up his planned “all-out war” against crimes and illegal drugs as national security threats in the country. The NSC, the highest policy-making body on national security matters, includes former presidents of the country among its members.

This will include, namely, former presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and outgoing President Aquino. Estrada is currently on second term as mayor of Manila while Arroyo is on her third and last term as Pampanga congresswoman. Since he stepped down from Malacañang in 1998, Ramos remains active in speaking engagements here and abroad and put up his own RPDev Foundation.

In the case of the SC, Duterte has two former San Beda College of Law classmates among the 15-man high tribunal headed by incumbent Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno. During his tenure, Duterte would be appointing ten new SC justices due to scheduled retirements, including his two classmates who are due to retire this year.

While Duterte is still putting together his Cabinet team, his political allies are also building coalition agreements among the new and re-elected members of Congress.

As the winning presidential standard-bearer of the PDP-Laban, Duterte naturally is a magnet for senators and congressmen to join his incoming party in power.

Before, during and after the May 9 elections, many allies of President Aquino jumped ship out of the present ruling Liberal Party (LP) in Congress as well as in elected local government officials.

At the Senate, Duterte’s losing vice presidential runningmate Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and PDP-Laban chieftain, Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III are gathering support to wrest the leadership from incumbent Senate president Franklin Drilon (LP). To this end, Cayetano officially brought in the Nacionalista Party (NP) into coalition with PDP-Laban.

Eyeing to become the next Senate president, either Cayetano or Pimentel needs at least 13 out of the 24 senators to get the majority vote. During the 16th Congress, NP coalesced with LP that installed Drilon in the Senate leadership.

The NP did not field any presidential bet and neither endorsed any tandem during the last elections because three NP stalwarts competed for the vice presidency. Aside from Cayetano, NP Senators Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Antonio Trillanes IV also ran for VP – all as independent candidates.

During his first press conference a week after he won the presidential race, Duterte witnessed the signing of the first coalition agreement between Pimentel and NP president, former Senate president Manny Villar. The signing was also attended by Villar’s wife and son, Sen.Cynthia Villar and re-elected Las Piñas Rep. Mark Villar, respectively.

Just re-elected for his third term as congressman, the young Villar was immediately recruited to join the Duterte Cabinet as the incoming secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). The Las Piñas congressman accepted the post but this would mean giving up his House seat. It drew a lot of flak for the Villars’ conflict of interest.

Originally, the DPWH post was offered by Duterte to the former Senate president, who however politely declined it, citing preference to stay out of politics and just keep busy in his private business. Since he lost to Mr. Aquino during the May, 2010 presidential elections, Villar has reassumed managing their family-owned flagship company VistaLand, a real estate conglomerate.

The friendship of Duterte and Villar dates back to the time when the incoming president was still a congressman while the latter was House speaker in 1998.

At the House of Representatives, Duterte’s provincemate, newly elected Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez of PDP-Laban is leading the efforts to capture the speakership of the incoming 17th Congress. Re-elected on his third and last term in Congress, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. conceded he might no longer muster the majority votes in the 17th Congress. The 290-members of the current House is composed of 117 LP members, including Belmonte.

Although the PDP-Laban has only four members in the incoming House, defections to the new party in power at Malacañang will decimate the present majority. The latest to enter into a formal agreement with the PDP-Laban to support the Duterte presidency and speakership bid of Alvarez were the 40-man Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).

At the outset, Alvarez disclosed the top priority in Duterte’s legislative agenda is the proposed shift to federal form of government through Charter change. During the presidential campaign, Duterte favored the holding of elected constitutional convention on the proposed shift to federal system. Alvarez said they would introduce the federalism bill that would supplant the flawed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) bill that got stuck in the 16th Congress.

A similar bill will be initiated at the Senate by Pimentel who called upon the NPC members to support it during their signing rites last Friday. “Let’s give federalism a chance,” Pimentel urged.

Duterte said his administration will devote his first two years in office to push the bill for federalism starting with Charter change initiatives. In exclusive interview at GMA-7’s “State of the Nation” TV program, incoming President Duterte said: “I am not into controlling Congress but I am praying to have a sympathetic Congress at the very least.”

“I have six years (term of office), that’s very short,” he pointed out. Duterte’s federalism bill will start rolling out as soon as he assumes office exactly noon of June 30.

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