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JPE backs federalism

Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile

MANILA, Philippines —  Former senator Juan Ponce Enrile expressed support for the move for a federal system of government.

Enrile said changing the 1987 Constitution is long overdue as many of its provisions are counter-productive, especially in terms of improving the economy and the efficiency of government services.

“To be sure, there are many things in the Constitution that we have now which ought to be changed. Our form of government is quite inefficient, for one,” he said.

Enrile, however, said that should Congress decide to amendment the Constitution through con-ass, the Senate and the House should have separate voting.

“The people who drafted the 1987 Constitution were careless.They did not clearly specify the manner of voting of the two houses, although if I were asked, they have to vote separately. They are two houses, they have two rules, they have two quorums, they have two presiding officers, they have to maintain their distinctness,” Enrile said.

“It cannot be otherwise you do not need the Senate to be in the Batasan Pambansa to be in the proceedings because it’s a question of numbers,” he added.

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Election experts have estimated that electing con-con delegates nationwide would cost at least P6 billion, while maintaining the convention, its secretariat and offices and paying for the expenses of delegates would entail about P3 billion a year.

As to the issue of possible postponement of the 2019 mid-term elections, Enrile dismissed the idea as far-fetched, unless the Constitution is amended before next year’s election.

“There can only be a no election if you amend the Constitution. Nobody can postpone it, because the Constitution establishes the period of electing leaders of the country,” he said.

On speculations that the administration is pushing for a shift to federalism in order to extend Duterte’s term, Enrile said: “They have to amend the Constitution. Anything is possible if you amend the constitution...Anything is possible provided it’s approved by the people.”

“The Constitution is the function of the sovereign people of the republic. It’s not the function of any politician,” he added.

Five-year term

The administration party PDP-Laban is pushing for a five-year term of office for lawmakers under the envisioned new federal Constitution, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares said yesterday.

He said the planned Charter provides for a “federal assembly” whose members would enjoy a longer term of five years, instead of the present three years for congressmen and six years for senators.

Colmenares said the Constitution drafted by the ruling party does not mention a Senate.

“This is one more reason why members of Congress must not be allowed to convene into a constituent assembly (con-ass) and decide on self serving provisions such as no election, term extensions and lengthening their terms,” he added.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has said Charter change (Cha-cha) for federalism would be the top priority of the House of Representatives and the Senate when they resume session tomorrow.

Alvarez said he would meet with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III to decide on when senators and congressmen could convene as a con-ass to start working on a federal Constitution.

He wants such Charter to be submitted to the people in a plebiscite to be held together with the barangay elections in May, or in less than four months.

Senators have said such timeline is unrealistic and Congress should not rush the drafting of a new Constitution. 

Pimentel has suggested that the plebiscite be held with the congressional-local elections in May 2019.

The federal Constitution the House envisions would convert the present two-chamber Congress into a single-house parliament.

Alvarez has proposed the 12 senators who are up for reelection or whose two-term limit is expiring next year be extended as members of parliament up to 2022.

None of these senators has indicated if he or she would accept a term extension.

Pimentel has said President Duterte’s stay in office could also be extended, if he agreed to it.

Under the proposal of PDP-Laban, federal assembly members could be elected next year or the new legislature could be composed of incumbent lawmakers on an extended tenure up to 2024, when the first federal elections could be held.

Since Duterte’s term expires in 2022, he would likewise be extended by two years. The President has expressed aversion to a prolonged term.

 – With Jess Diaz

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