By Camille P. Balagtas, August 23 2018; Journal Online


Image Credit to Rappler

DESPITE the “dead in the water” comments on federalism in the Senate, Senator Aquilino Koko Pimentel III said that no less than President Duterte himself will appeal to members of the majority in the Senate to consider the proposed shift to a federal government.

Pimentel maintained his optimism on the issue saying that the view of the Chief Executive will help in convincing other senators to reconsider their positions.

Pimentel, however, said that the President will not force anyone to support federalism

Pimentel divulged that former Senate President Aquilino Nene Pimentel personally asked President Duterte to talk to members to the majority members of the Senate saying this will really make a big difference.

Senators from both the majority and the minority said there is nothing wrong with the President expressing his views on the issue but maintained that the will of the people must be heard too.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III who openly expressed his support for a possible shift to federalism affirmed the view that the President “will never dictate his will to any members of the Senate.”

Sotto said the President maintained his strong position not to intervene in the Senate decision and dictate his will on anyone.

Earlier, senators crossed party lines as they vowed to conduct further scrutiny of the proposal to shift to federalism and to wait until the Senate committee on constitutional amendments finishes its public hearings and to submit the necessary report and recommendations.

Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, said the Senate will take an in-depth look into the potential impact on the economy as he filed Senate Resolution 823, authorizing the committee to open an inquiry into the shift to the federal system of government “including the economic risks and opportunities, and the impact on regional economic growth.”

Earlier Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia warned that “at this point, the regions in the country are not ready for federalism, that the momentum of infrastructure improvement in the regions is going to be disrupted, and that the shift to federalism would entail immense expenditures, which may increase the fiscal deficit to GDP (gross domestic product) ratio.”

“If this happens, this will create more complications for our country,” Gatchalian said as he cited business groups, including the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines, Semiconductor and Electronics Industries of the Philippines Foundation Inc., and Cebu Business Club, who confirmed their opposition on the proposed federal shift which they said may result in uncertainty among investors.

Senate President Pro tempore Ralph G. Recto took up the cudgels for Duterte’s economic managers, saying they are “integral and indispensable to the national conversation on federalism.”

Recto said the economic managers of the present government must be given the floor so they can speak their thoughts on this issue, insisting that they are tasked to calculate the costs and impacts on the possible shift to federalism government.

Recto noted, for instance, that in the case of Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, “he must raise P10 billion a day to finance the operations, the programs of this government. And collecting this P10 billion daily quota from the people is a thankless job.”

Last week at least four senior Cabinet members cited the need to go slow in pursuing the federal shift unless substantive issues, such as the fiscal impact—simultaneous with the difficult tax reforms and an ambitious infrastructure buildup—on the economy is resolved.

Dominguez, facing senators in a committee hearing, clarified he was not totally opposing federalism as it is, but could not endorse the federal roadmap in its present form, based on the draft shown to him, citing its “adverse impact on fiscal space.”

Other ranking Cabinet officials who separately conveyed reservations on the federalism plan as proposed were: NEDA Director General Pernia, Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, and Defense Secretary Delfin N. Lorenzana, who suggested that the government needs to conduct a comprehensive public information drive to let the people know what federalism is all about.

Senator Panfilo Lacson expressed his belief that federalism will not gain support in the Senate but said he is willing to listen to President Duterte should he ask them for a meeting.

Senator Grace Poe likewise will listen to the President. The lady senator said she sees nothing wrong if the Chief Executive will explain to them his view as long as he will not impose his proposal on them.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Francis Kiko Pangilinan, it is imperative for the Senate to await the report of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments on the issue as earlier agreed during the caucus.

Pangilinan, who chairs the Senate panel tackling Cha-cha, said the Senate is an independent institution and reiterated that Charter change should not be rushed.