By Jovee Marie N. dela Cruz and Butch Fernandez, with Mark Joseph Fernandez, Joahna Lei Casilao and Jose Oscar Magpusao, July 18 2018; Business World
Image Credit to ABS-CBN News (Alvarez)
Image Credit to Senate of the Philippines (Drilon)
WITH the need for Congress to attend first to the proposed 2019 national budget, the October deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy of reelectionist lawmakers, the Christmas break and the start of the campaign period by February next year, the Speaker of the House of Representatives reiterated on Wednesday there is no time for Congress to tackle the proposed Federal Charter.
Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez, in an interview, said Congress would need six to eight months to complete deliberations on the proposed Federal Charter and another six months to conduct an information drive before the draft Federal Constitution can be presented to the people for ratification.
Alvarez, who is strongly pushing for the postponement of 2019 mid-term elections, said members of Congress should now decide on the no-election (no-el) issue before the filing of certificates of candidacy in October.
“If we delay it further, we would not be able to do it until the end of the term of President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” he said.
After the 2019 elections, he said President Duterte would have a little over two years remaining in his term, which is not enough to approve a new Charter and allow a proper transition period to the new federal government.
He said unless Charter change for a federal form of government is done by 2019, it would be very difficult to achieve this goal.
“We need to focus on this. So, for example, if we decide to cancel the elections in 2019, we would tackle first the NEP [National Expenditure Program] and then after that, we would immediately discuss that [Charter change]. We would not do any other thing except to discuss that [proposed Federal Charter],” Alvarez said.
The Speaker’s view that a people’s initiative can suffice for no-el was disputed by the Senate minority leader, however. Sen. Franklin M. Drilon on Wednesday debunked Alvarez’s assertion that instead of Congress acting as Constituent Assembly (Con-ass), Charter changes can be done through the so-called people’s initiative provision in the 1987 Constitution.
“That cannot be done through people’s initiative. Why? Because this involves a revision of the Constitution’s provision which fixed the terms of elected officials,” said Drilon. He added that changing the fixed terms is “a revision of the Constitution which cannot be done through a People’s Initiative referendum” that is intended “only for minor amendments.”
Asserting that there is a process to be followed, Drilon vowed to “bring it up to the Supreme Court and question the resort through people’s initiative” to determine once and for all whether such can be allowed as a mode for amending term limits spelled out in the Constitution.
“It is clear that their purpose in pushing Charter change is to scrap elections and extend the terms on incumbent elected officials,” Drilon pointed out.
Meanwhile, Alvarez said “anti-federalism forces” are capitalizing on unfounded fears against his proposal to scrap the midterm elections in 2019 to serve their goal of derailing the passage of a new Charter.
The Speaker said the 2019 polls may be scrapped through a law passed by Congress.
But if the Senate would not agree, Alvarez said another option is for supporters of federalism to launch a people’s initiative.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Chairman and former Rep. Neri Colmenares said the proposed people’s initiative for no election shows the desperation of politicians, especially those with their terms ending and those wanting a new lease on their political lives.
“These politicians should stop undermining the will of the people in wanting to elect new government officials and junk those who are not serving the interest of the majority of their constituents,” said the former lawmaker.
“With this no-el proposal and Charter change they want to hit multiple birds with two stones: they remain in power; they can further open Philippine economy to foreigners; they can divide the country into their own little kingdoms with the same ruling political dynasties and they can have all their allies appointed to powerful positions so that they can cover each others’ backs,” he added.
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said people’s initiative as a way of amending the 1987 Constitution “shall be a harder mode of attaining desired amendments.”
“At this point in time, logistical and time constraints will not make it possible. Good luck to the proponents. But more important, the people wants to have an election next year. A no-el scenario will always be unpopular,” he added.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano echoed the worries of Duterte’s economic managers that federalism may set back economic progress and leave most regions lagging.
“I agree with the assessment of the Neda [National Economic and Development Authority]. Regions whose economies are underdeveloped will be further marginalized. There is a huge imbalance when it comes to economic status and availability of wealth and resources among regions in the country,” he said.
Alejano said only a few regions are capable of sustaining their operations without support from the national government through the internal revenue allocation (IRA).
He cited the case of Davao region, the home of the President and Speaker of the House.
“Davao region contributes only 1 percent to the total BIR [Bureau of Internal Revenue] collections and yet it gets almost 5 percent in return in the form of IRA. Where will they get the remaining 4-percent deficit, considering that regions still have to contribute to national services like defense, foreign relations, debt servicing and others in the federal setup?” he said.
“This is not to mention the other expenses that would be incurred in setting up a federal state, such as personal services, MOOE, capital outlay and others,” he added.
Alejano also noted that it is a wrong perception that so-called imperial Manila takes most of the country’s wealth.
“It is misleading to think and argue that imperial Manila is taking the lion’s share while other regions are left with crumbs. It is the other way around. Imperial Manila contributes around 82 [percent] to 84 percent to the total BIR collections but gets back only around 6 percent. The remaining 76 [percent] to 78 percent of its contribution is given to all other regions in the form of IRA,” he said.
The opposition lawmaker said more time is needed to prepare the regions sufficiently for them to survive the demands of shifting to a federal form of government.
“Bottom line, most of the regions in the country spend resources much more than what they can raise locally. We need to capacitate them first politically and economically for them to be self-reliant. This will take years,” Alejano said.
Without a public clamor, Akbayan Rep. Tom S. Villarin said there is no urgency and importance of Charter change, saying forcing it will invite political instability and even drag down the economy.