No election scenario looms amid push for federalism

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 4) — There will be no elections in 2019 if the planned shift to federalism pushes through this year, lawmakers said.

"That's a possibility," Senator Bam Aquino told CNN Philippines on Thursday.

President Rodrigo Duterte's allies in Congress are proposing a constitutional assembly shortly after both houses resume session on January 15. The assembly will introduce changes in the Constitution to give way to a federal form of government – a major platform of the Duterte administration.

Following this timeline, Filipinos can vote for or against federalism in a plebiscite simultaneous with the May 8 barangay elections, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said in a January 3 press release.

When asked to comment on Alvarez' statement, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said, "Unless the Constitution is amended, which includes being ratified by the people prior to the date set in the Constitution, elections will have to push through."

Senators dread no-election scenario

Possible amendments to the Constitution include drastic changes such as the postponement of elections for 10 years, Senator Kiko Pangilinan said, citing "whispers" in Congress.

This would cover not just the 2019 midterm elections but the 2022 presidential polls as well.

"May 10 taon na transition period sa federalism na wala munang eleksyon at itutulak ang term extension para sa mga nakaupo," Pangilinan said in a statement as he listed possible changes to the Constitution.

Translation: "There is a 10-year transition period for federalism where elections would be postponed and the term of officials will be extended."

He said all locals officials would be appointed in the absence of elections.

Aquino, a Liberal Party (LP) member,  said the postponement of polls would undermine the country's democracy.

"Dumadaan ka sa mga prosesong yan dahil demokrasya tayo. Mahalaga na meron tayong eleksyon," he said.

Translation: "We undergo the election process because we are a democracy. Elections are important."

Senator JV Ejercito said, it "might be difficult to make people accept that there will be no elections.  People look forward to elections which is a referendum of all elected officials."

Senate President Koko Pimentel said it would only take a three-year transition period to shift to a federal form of government.

Duterte to serve beyond 2022?

Pimentel said shifting to federalism is not tantamount to automatically extending Duterte's term.

But this could happen "if really necessary" and "if he's (Duterte) amenable to it."

Pimentel's statement however caught the ire of opposition lawmakers who criticize the government for pushing for federalism to stay in power.

"The cat is out of the bag! At least, the real purpose of federalism is out -- term extension! LP will oppose such immoral proposition," Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said.

Duterte has repeatedly denied any intention to stay in power, even offering to resign once federalism is in place in the country.

In 2008, joint resolutions were filed in Congress to amend the Constitution in a bid to shift to federalism but the initiative failed.

Talks of shifting to federalism gained steam again when Duterte won the 2016 elections and became the first president from Mindanao. He believes this form of government will finally bring peace to the conflict-stricken region.

A federal government creates autonomous states that have greater power over the administration and resources of the territory they cover. Under the current presidential system, authority is centralized in the national government based in Manila.

WATCH: What is federalism?