Despite assurances from the Palace that the 2019 elections would push through, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez on Wednesday urged lawmakers to postpone the polls next year before the filing of certificates of candidacy in October.
In a radio interview, he said postponing the 2019 midterm elections was the best way to give lawmakers enough time to debate the shift to federalism and the amendments to the Constitution that would be required.
“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.
At the Palace, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said President Duterte would have no hand in postponing the 2019 elections. He would not say, however, if the President would act against plans to postpone the polls.
At the same time, Alvarez said anti-federalism forces were capitalizing on unfounded fears against his proposal to scrap the midterm elections to delay the passage of a new charter.
Unless Charter change for a federal form of government is done by 2019, Alvarez said, it would be very difficult to achieve this goal.
“If we delay it further, we would not be able to do it until the end of the term of President [Rodrigo] Duterte,” Alvarez said.
After the 2019 elections, President Rodrigo 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.
“That is why those who are against the move to change from a unitary to a federal form of government that would be the best position to take: let’s have an election and attend to that [Charter change] after the election. They know very well that it would not be possible,” Alvarez said.
Earlier, Alvarez noted that among the candidates in the 2016 presidential elections, it was only Duterte who advocated a shift to a federal form of government.
With the need for Congress to attend first to the proposed 2019 budget, the October deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy of reelectionist lawmakers, the Christmas break two months later and the start of the campaign period by February next year, Alvarez said there is simply no time for Congress to tackle the proposed federal charter.
To avoid further complications and suspicions with the resulting need for the President to appoint new officials whose terms would have expired, Alvarez said it would be more prudent just to extend the term of incumbent officials.
He 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.
Alvarez also allayed fears that the Charter change was meant to extend the term of President Duterte, saying that if the Charter change pushes through, the first election under a federal setup would be held on 2022.
“Let us look at this matter objectively. If we have to do this, let’s do it right,” Alvarez said.
To inform the people about the merits of his proposal, Alvarez said each member of the House can conduct an information drive in their respective districts.
Meanwhile, Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu pushed for the passage of a bill designed to be an enabling law for a people’s initiative that would let ordinary citizens propose amendments to the Constitution.
He said a people’s initiative is provided for under Section 2 of Article XVII of the Constitution.
“We will come up with an enabling law sufficient enough to provide for the implementation of the exercise of such right. Hence… the passage of this bill is a must to put into reality the Latin maxim, Vox Populi, Vox Dei, or the voice of the people is the voice of God,” Abu said.
Opposition lawmakers, meanwhile, urged the government to rethink its position to push hard for federalism.
“The ordinary Filipino does not want and need this shift to a federal system of government. The Filipino people need land, job security, lowering prices of basic goods and services and higher wages, policies that the draft constitution fail to protect and provide,” ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said.
ACT Teachers Party-list Rep. France Castro said “the ordinary Filipino will not benefit from this Cha-cha. It will even deny and weaken some of their rights and privileges.”
Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano said the lack of public clamor and knowledge render the efforts to change the Constitution and shift to a federal form of government inorganic.
“It cannot be helped but to think that so-called advocates of Charter change and federalism are merely paying lip-service in front of the public to pursue their own vested interests,” Alejano said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday warned that they would question before the Supreme Court a people’s initiative, which is being floated by Alvarez as mode to amend the terms of office of elected officials.
“There’s a process. There’s a signature [campaign]. We will question before the Supreme Court a people’s initiative as a way to change the terms of elected officials,” Drilon said in Filipino.
He said changing the terms of elected officials is a major amendment and cannot be accomplished through a people’s initiative.
A people’s initiative, he added, is for minor amendments, and added it was clear the goal of Charter change was to scrap the 2019 elections and to extend the term of sitting officials.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the leadership of the House should be reminded of the provision on people’s initiative as an alternative mode of revising or amending the Constitution, and said this could not be done without Senate approval.
“It goes without saying, majority of the senators, even those running for reelection, will fight tooth and nail any attempt to cancel the 2019 midterm elections simply because it is wrong and self-serving,” he said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said government funds to be spent for a people’s initiative and plebiscite to extend the terms of sitting politicians can be put to better use.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the electoral process is a fundamental tenet of democracy. It’s the period when the electorate is empowered to choose their own leader who they think best represent their beliefs and ideologies.
The people’s initiative to postpone the 2019 elections, he said will just be a waste of resources and it will also further divide the country.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said Alvarez should think through his proposal for a plebiscite, saying it was too cumbersome and time consuming. With Nat Mariano
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