Nene Pimentel prefers plebiscite for new charter by 2021

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — Consultative Committee (ConCom) member Nene Pimentel prefers to have a plebiscite for a federal constitution in about three years — a much later date than what his colleagues are gunning for.

"Actually in my mind, kung maaari isubmit natin ito sa taumbayan [if we can submit this to the people] at least one year before the end of the President's term, that would be good," Pimentel told CNN Philippines' The Source.

After the President expressed interest to retire in 2019, ConCom Chair Reynato Puno said a plebiscite would be best held next year. Another ConCom member, Ed Tayao, said this means that the scheduled mid-term elections in May 2019 may serve as the elections for transitory leaders.

Pimentel said that timeline was "a big question mark." He noted that according to surveys, Filipinos were not aware of provisions in the 1987 Constitution and what a shift to federalism entails.

"Palagay ko, mahirap siguro iyon [I think that might be difficult]," he said.

On the other hand, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants a plebiscite by 2022 — and the postponement of the upcoming 2019 elections. He argued that congressmen needed more time to study the proposed charter.

But Pimentel contested this, saying it would only "enhance suspicions" that politicians — including President Rodrigo Duterte — are simply after a prolonged stay in power.

At Duterte's request, the ConCom revised its federal charter draft to prevent the President from running again under a new government. A previous version of the draft allowed him to run for head of state again and qualify for reelection — which meant he could spend a total of 14 years in office.

"I am against postponing the elections," said Pimentel. "Akalain ng mga tao, 'Ah, iyon pala ang dahilan' — para he will perpetuate himself. But that's not [the case] at all."

[Translation: The people will think, 'So that was the reason (for charter change)' — so he will perpetuate himself. But that's not [the case] at all.]

The ConCom draft charter, which has been transmitted to the House of Representatives and Senate, is set to be a guideline for an expected constituent assembly that the House is pushing for.

READ: ConCom's final draft Federal Constitution

Pimentel is a former Senate President, long-time federalism advocate, and founder of the ruling party PDP-Laban.