DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 13 January) — President Rodrigo Duterte envisions a Federal Philippines without a Senate but a unicameral legislature composed of around 50 members with no party list representatives and a central government still based in Malacanang.
This sums up Duterte’s response when MindaNews asked him on his vision of a Federal Philippines during a sit-down interview Friday at the Agila room of the Presidential Guest House in Panacan, also referred to as “Panacanang.”
“There will be no suspension of elections and there will be no term extension especially for me,” said Duterte, also chair of the ruling Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban).
But Duterte’s take on banning political dynasties in the shift to federalism is “neutral” as he maintained that “the voice of the people is the voice of God.”
Recent pronouncements from the PDP’s top officials have been confusing the public on what kind of federal system it is pushing.
Early last week, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Jr. the party’s Secretary-General spoke of no-election (no-el) scenario in 2019 and expressed hope the plebiscite on Constitutional amendments will be held simultaneous with the barangay elections on May 14 this year.
Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the party’s President, on the other hand said next year’s mid-term polls will push through as scheduled on May 13, 2019 but noted the the term of office of the President can be extended beyond 2022 “if really necessary” in the transition to federalism.
Duterte’s vision of a unicameral body supports Alvarez’ pronouncement that a unicameral legislature is better to speed up passage of laws but it runs counter to Pimentel’s pronouncements of a federal system with a bicameral legislature.
Pimentel told Senate reporters on January 8 that the “PDP-Laban formula” is “if we go federal, then we can still be bicameral. So walang takot ang advocacy ng PDP-Laban is federal, hence bicameral. Kelangan po ng Senado, as the Upper House, which will now be the venue, for the voices of the regions.”
But the President also shot down Alvarez’ earlier proposal to transfer the seat of the central government from Malacanang to Negros in the Visayas, noting how a transfer of seat entails money.
“Let’s stick with the traditional. It’s not yet time for us (to transfer seats),” he said, adding “it entails money.”
Duterte’s first response in the early part of the interview on what his vision is of a Federal Philippines, was “I am still waiting for the draft of the 25-member Commission.”
He was referring to the 25-member Consultative Committee (ConCom) which he created through Executive Order 10 signed on December 7, 2016.
The ConCom’s task is to “study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions fo the 1987 Constitution including but not limited to the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance, and economic policies,” submit their recommendations to the President and the President would submit it to Congress.
Thirteen months later, Duterte has yet to name the ConCom members although he said it would be “a matter of days” (see other story: “Whatever happened to EO 10?”)
Asked for clarification on the administration’s target for a plebiscite on the Constitutional amendments — Alvarez’ May 2018 or Pimentel’s May 2019 —
Duterte replied “I will decide when I’m there.”
“Let’s be serious. You want a change in the Philippines so you want a set up that would ensure fairness and equality, right? Now if there is an election, what will it be? People electing people. And who do you think will prevail most in the number of municipalities and provinces? People with, what is the elections in the Philippines? Money and guns and power. So mag-federal ka tapos you have the … same politics. The system might be different, I mean there might be a governor for each region and the elections, maybe the Moro will adopt the parliamentary type and the other regions will opt for whatever.”
But Duterte could not answer as yet how he would ensure sectors, particularly the marginalized, will be represented in his Federal Philippines.
Apparently the answer to that would be contained in the recommendation by the 25-member ConCom which he has yet to name.
But he stressed there would be no repeat of the party-list system.
“Tingan mong party list kung sinong pumasok. Di ba mga komunista? What are they doing with the money there. They’re funding demonstrations,” he said, citing as example the demonstration outside the Batasang Pambansa during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24 last year.
Duterte reiterated earlier statements that he thinks “the best option” for the country is “the French set up.”
“But the French set up is not federal,” MindaNews said. Duterte replied: “Federal sila. That’s why they have a Prime Minister but they have a President with limited powers, power to declare war, to receive to receive blah blah blah, mga diplomatic kanya yan.
Duterte said he wants “a strong President” who would be “as powerful as the Prime Minister.”
In the Republic of France, the President is Head of State and is elected directly by the people. He appoints the Prime Minister, the Head of Government, as nominated by the majority party in the National Assembly. He also heads the Council of Ministers but the President chairs it. The National Assembly represents the lower house while the Senate represents the upper house in the French Parliament.
France is a unitary state with a semi-Presidential system.
Duterte said the unicameral legislature he envisions for a Federal Philippines should be “very limited” in terms of number. “Maybe if it’s provinces, kokonti” because its’ going to be expensive. “Very limited lang. Fifty or whatever provinces, yun ang national body.”
The Philippines has 81 provinces as of September 30, 2017, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
The two houses of Congress will amend the Constitution by convening itself as a Constituent Assembly (ConAss) when it resumes sessions after the holiday break.
Congress resumes sessions on January 15. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)