Federalism still Duterte priority, says Malacañang
Despite the fears of the government’s economic managers about the havoc a shift to federalism could wreak on the Philippine economy, the change remains a priority for President Duterte, Malacañang said on Thursday.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the whole Cabinet supported President Duterte on the proposed change to federalism.
“I think there’s a hundred percent agreement that we are pushing for federalism. The exact mechanics of how to do it well, no one can claim a monopoly,” Roque said.
Roque spoke a day after Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia told the Senate finance committee that a shift to federalism could damage the Philippines’ credit standing and disrupt the country’s economic growth.
Answering questions from the senators who were scrutinizing the government’s P3.757-trillion proposed budget for 2019, the two Cabinet officials said the draft federal Constitution submitted by Malacañang’s consultative committee did not deal with important issues that concerned the country’s economy.
At one point, Dominguez said the credit rating agencies viewed the proposed shift to federalism as spelling “uncertainty” and “political risk” for the Philippines.
Dominguez said he found the draft Charter’s fiscal provisions confusing and the provision for a 50-percent increase in the regions’ share from the national government’s tax collections could make the government incur “a very large budget deficit.”
“So what will happen to our credit rating?” Sen. Ralph Recto asked Dominguez.
“Oh, it will go to hell,” Dominguez replied.
Pernia said the shift to federalism could directly cost the government P120 billion, not including the cost of “disruption to projects and other things that would be [taken into account].”
“Maybe our growth momentum will be disrupted also,” he said.
The two officials, however, expressed no opposition to the proposed change to federalism but they were clearly disappointed with how the draft Charter provided for the shift.
Dominguez said that based on the consultative committee’s draft, he would “absolutely” vote against federalism.
Sack or shut them up
Roque said the Palace respected the views of Dominguez and Pernia, but added that he wanted to know whether what the two Cabinet officials had said would be the results of the change based on the draft Charter and whether there were alternatives.
He said Dominguez and Pernia had never raised the concerns they spoke about in the Senate budget hearing at Cabinet meetings.
Roque said Dominguez, a close friend of the President’s, supported federalism and only wanted “to find answers to unanswered questions” about the proposed change.
But Catholic priest Ranhilio Aquino, dean of San Beda College School of Law and a member of the consultative committee, said that if President Duterte was really serious about the shift to federalism, he should sack Dominguez and Pernia or tell them to keep their mouths shut.
“If he [the President] favors federalism, let him sack Dominguez and Pernia or command them to keep their traps shut,” Aquino said in a post on Facebook on Thursday.
“Freedom of expression does not apply to Cabinet officials in respect to policy,” he said.
If Mr. Duterte really wanted a change to federalism, he should tell Congress to “pass a federal Constitution,” Aquino said.
“Let’s stop fooling ourselves. If Dominguez and Pernia, in their official capacities, speak loudly against federalism, then the question should be asked in all earnestness whether the President is for it or not,” he said.
“The way things are going, Dominguez and Pernia may merely be paving the way for a subsequent presidential announcement that ‘I have been advised by my economists that federalism is as bad for our national health as smoking is to a person,” he said.
If Presidnt Duterte is now “cool” to federalism, Aquino said, the President should “give the order to abandon the federalist ship.”
“Then all of us fools who wrote the draft and defended it with all our might will know that we have been taken for a ride—for a very expensive ride—but we shall at least have the chance to abandon ship before it is scuttled,” he said.
Aquino, however, said his statement did not reflect the view of the consultative committee.
No need to rush
In the Senate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, said on Thursday that the concerns expressed by Dominguez and Pernia to the finance committee showed that there was no need to rush the revision of the Constitution for a change to federalism.
Speaking at a news forum, Pangilinan said the revision could be discussed after next year’s midterm elections.
“The Charter change issue is no joke. It might result in a man-made calamity, both a political and economic disaster,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan’s committee is hearing proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
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