It’s Con-ass, not Con-con
President Duterte now wants a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution for a shift from the unitary-presidential form of government to a federal-parliamentary form, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Thursday.
Mr. Duterte made the decision on Wednesday night after the National Security Council (NSC) meeting when he was told that a constitutional convention (Con-con) would cost P6 billion to P7 billion, Alvarez said.
The President had originally wanted the amendment to be done by a constitutional convention, but changed his mind after learning its cost would be so staggering during a discussion with the Speaker, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Alvarez said.
He said “it was agreed” that Congress would sit as a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution.
“It will be cheaper and faster,” Alvarez said in a speech at the Management Association of the Philippines general membership meeting in Makati City.
In the audience were Cesar Virata, who served as prime minister in the parliamentary government headed by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, and Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chair Andres Bautista.
Malacañang confirmed that the “possibility” of proposing amendments to the Constitution through a constituent assembly was discussed during a meeting in the Palace on Wednesday night.
“It was discussed as a possibility considering the prohibitive cost should they begin the process soon, seeing that [the Sangguniang Kabataan], proposed salary increases for the [Philippine National Police] are looming,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
In a constitutional convention, the regions will elect representatives who will propose amendments to the Constitution.
In a constituent assembly, Congress sits down to propose amendments to the Constitution.
In both cases, the proposed amendments require approval by the people in a referendum.
Alvarez sought to ease fears that the congressmen would serve their personal interests as they amend the Constitution.
“Do not worry. Under the leadership of President Duterte, your fears in the constituent assembly will disappear. We are committed to do it for the country,” he said.
He said a constituent assembly would be an “inclusive undertaking,” with various committees for different sectors to be created to propose amendments, allowing “everybody… to participate in the process.”
A constituent assembly would not entail any cost, Alvarez said, because the members of Congress would do the job. Only a massive information drive would need a budget, he said.
Alvarez said the Duterte administration’s timetable for a shift to a federal-parliamentary form of government would begin next year, with the constitutional assembly getting a year to revise the Constitution, to be followed by the information drive explaining to the people, through primers in various dialects, the proposed changes to the Charter.
The ratification of the proposed amendments would be held simultaneously with the midterm elections in 2019 to be more cost-efficient, Alvarez said.
“After the midterm elections [we’ll] have a transition government. By 2022, we will [have elections] on the basis of a new Constitution,” he said.
Mr. Duterte has been promoting federalism even before he launched a campaign for Malacañang last year.
The shift was on his platform of government, but it was largely ignored by the voters, who preferred to hear him speak about his plans for fighting crime.
Alvarez said the unitary-presidential form of government was a system imposed by colonizers on the Philippines for “easier control” of wealth and power in Manila.
He said the system stunted the economic growth and development of the provinces and contributed to “the cycle of generational conflict.”
“Structural change” is necessary, Alvarez said. “Through the adoption of a federal form of government… national and state powers will be clearly delineated. The national government can focus on national concerns like defense, foreign policy, national police, monetary policies and others.”
On the other hand, the states “can focus on local concerns by empowering them to adopt tailor-fit solutions to their unique local problems. No more imposition of one-size-fits-all policies and solutions from distant Manila, detached from the realities on the ground with faraway localities with unique problems and circumstances,” he added.
Alvarez said federalism would cut the bureaucratic “red tape that leads all the way to Manila… thus reducing delays and uncertainties inimical to businesses.”
“The shift to federalism will address and eventually end historical injustices that have caused human sufferings and destruction of properties,” he added.
11 to 12 states
The proposal will create 11 to 12 states, lumped together from rich and poor provinces, with greater autonomy.
Under the federal system envisioned by the Duterte administration, Alvarez said poor regions would not be independent states.
“They will not survive. So the solution is you mix them with rich regions,” he said.
For example, in Mindanao, the Caraga region cannot become an independent state because it is considered one of the poorer regions, Alvarez said.
Thus, Caraga would have to be “mixed” with the Davao region, he said.
Eastern and Western Mindanao and the Bangsamoro can also be mixed, he said.
In the Visayas, Samar and Leyte will have to be mixed with Cebu, Bohol and perhaps even the Negros Island region, he said.
“As for Panay, Palawan, Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon, I do not see any reason why they cannot survive,” Alvarez said.
In Luzon, he said, the following could become states: Bicol, Southern Tagalog, National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and northern Luzon, including the Cordillera Administrative Region.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said he would seek clarification of Alvarez’s announcement, as Mr. Duterte had always been saying he preferred amendments through a constitutional convention.
He said Bayan Muna would hold a meeting and then issue a statement in reaction to the announcement of Alvarez.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), meanwhile, signed an agreement with the People’s National Movement for Federalism (Penamfed), led by Rep. Dante Liban, for the launching of an information drive on the shift to a federal form of government.
Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno, who signed the agreement for the DILG, said federalism would “bring about a more responsive government . . . attuned to the developmental needs of the people.”
“Federalism is the key to unity and peace,” a DILG statement quoted Liban as saying. “It will open opportunities for regional growth. The millennial and the next generation of Filipinos will benefit a lot from this.” With reports from Jerome Aning in Manila; Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao
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