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Palace, Senate shoot down No-El scenario


By Ted Tuvera, Gerry Baldo and Angie M. Rosales

The Palace and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III played down as unlikely a no elections (No-El) scenario that Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez floated yesterday as a consequence of the shift to a federal system of government but Pimentel said the term of President Duterte may be extended “if necessary” during a transition government. This was also junked by the President.
Alvarez in a television interview said a transition government is necessary to pave the way for a shift to a federal system.
Alvarez said lawmakers could convene into a Constituent Assembly, amend the Constitution and submit the measure to a plebiscite simultaneously with the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections on May 14, 2018.
“If we can convene by January, we can submit that to a referendum during the barangay elections,” said Alvarez.
“Anything is possible…Let’s be practical. In the shift to a different form of government, unitary to federal, you need a transition government,” said Alvarez.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said that while the May 2019 elections have been scheduled by the Constitution, it is subject to change but Mr. Duterte, Roque noted, will have to comply with the law.
“The President always looks to the Constitution as his guiding document,” Roque said.
“The Constitution sets the date for the next elections in 2019. So unless the Constitution is amended ahead of the 2019 elections, it will have to push through,” he added.

Alvarez, in a television interview early yesterday, said that Congress is open to suspend the 2019 polls to accommodate charter change.
“It depends, if that’s what ends up in the transitory provision,” Alvarez said.
“Remember, the senators have terms that expire at different years....some terms will expire in 2019, some in 2022. In fairness, it might be better if you let all those terms expire in 2022, so there’s no term left behind. All terms expire,” he added.
Pimentel said yesterday that extending the Chief Executive’s term is a possibility to reckon with.
“We can extend the President’s term if really necessary, if he is amenable to it, and since that extension will be part of the new Constitution, the new Constitution is approved by the people themselves,” Pimentel said.
“It depends on the transitory provisions and when we approve the new Constitution. If 2019, then the next 3 years will be the transitory period,” he added. However, this term extension was also thumbed down by the President.
No-el not necessary — Koko
Pimentel III yesterday allayed fears on the possible extension in stay in office of incumbent officials, saying the no elections scenario is not necessary even in the shift to federal form of government.
“That is not an ‘either or’ situation. We can shift to federalism and allow all scheduled elections under the existing Constitution to go on and be held,” Pimentel said.
Before the government can operate under a new constitution, provided that such timeline cited by Alvarez is observed, the provisions of the existing Constitution must be followed, Pimentel said.
“Hence, if there are scheduled elections under the existing constitution then this must be allowed,” the senator added.
Pimentel has been vocal in admitting that he is among those due for re-election in 2019.
“The objective is federalism, that’s all,” Pimentel said in series of text messages to reporters when asked on the issue of charter change (cha-cha) and the planned shift from presidential system to federal parliamentary form of government.
As to whether Duterte is amenable in staying in his current post beyond 2022, Pimentel said “only he can answer that.”
Members of the Senate minority bloc did not waste time in expressing their strong objection in the scenario and vowed to oppose what they claimed as immoral proposition.
Asked about the possibility of extending the term of the President, the senator said it depends on what will be approved in the new constitution.
Cat out of the bag — Drilon
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party (LP) stood against moves that will effect term extension of elected officials, especially those incumbent ones.
“The cat is out of the bag! At least, the real purpose of federalism is out – term extension!! (The) LP will oppose such immoral proposition,” Drilon said.
Pangilinan said this now puts into question the motives behind the moves to amend the 1987 Charter to pave way for the federal form of government.
“The question is can we trust Congress to take on the task of amending the constitution? After witnessing the congressional hearings on EJKs (extrajudicial killings), the P6.5 Billion BoC (Bureau of Customs) shabu smuggling corruption scandal allegedly involving the Davao group, the impeachment of Chief Justice (Maria Lourdes) Sereno, the joint session of Congress to approve the one year extension of martial law and the CHR’s (Commission on Human Rights) P1,000 peso budget slash, my answer is no,” said Pangilinan.
“We will oppose charter change. Will you trust Congress with Charter change (Cha-cha)?” he asked.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is aligned with those mostly administration allies in the majority bloc, expressed pessimism over the possibility of the Cha-cha being in place four months from now.
“(It’s) easier said than done especially with the timeline that they’re looking at which is the conduct of a plebiscite in May this year. Time is not on the side of those advocating for change of our constitution,” he said.
Camarines Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte, however, said it’s now “full steam ahead” in the Congress for the process to shift to a federal system of government that should include removing the provisions that limit foreign ownership in various sectors of the economy.
“Federalism and foreign investments will sustain the economy’s growth momentum and enable the government to put flesh into President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision to disperse growth and development to the regions,” Villafuerte said.
Villafuerte, one of the lead proponents of federalism in the House of Representatives, said the switch to a federal setup is the way to attain the President’s goal of ensuring equitable regional growth and countryside development under his zero to 10-point socioeconomic agenda.
Speaker confident
Alvarez said he is confident of the support of the super majority for Con-Ass but said he has no idea if there are enough numbers in the Senate to support the proposal.
Albay Gov. Al Francis Bichara, president of the Union of Local Authorities in the Philippines (ULAP), has also expressed some reservations on the economic effects of a shift to federalism.
Bichara said that under a federal system, poor regions could become poorer despite a promised subsidy from the national government.
Bichara explained that the contributions of the rich regions, which, under the proposal, would be 20 percent of their contribution to the national government, may not be able to augment for the needs of the other poor regions.
Alvarez appealed to the sense of patriotism of senators, some of whom have expressed reservations over the proposed shift to a federal form of government.
Alvarez said that if a new Constitution for a federal form of government is accepted by the Filipino people the timetable of forthcoming elections may be affected, including the 2019 mid-term polls.
Under the federal setup the PDP-Laban is pushing for, Alvarez said the system would likely retain the position of President, who is elected at large by the Filipino people and would act as head of State.
On the other hand, there would be a Prime Minister, who would be the head of the government.


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