Senate President: We don't need to rush federalism

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 19) — The Senate maintains that it will not rush charter change amid executive pressure to shift to federalism.

Senate President Tito Sotto said on Thursday that he thought that Bangsamoro was a good experiment and he wanted to see how it will play out for around two years first.

"Kaya hindi natin kailangan apurahin yung federalism. Makikita natin dito sa Bangsamoro Organic Law kung maganda," said Sotto.

"Federal type na ito eh," he added. "Maganda makita natin ang epekto nito at ang mangyayari dito."

[Translation: We don't need to rush federalism. We'll see here if the Bangsamoro Organic Law is good... It's already a federal type (of government). It would be good to see the effects of this, and what will happen.]

A bicameral committee between the two chambers of Congress completed a final version of the Bangsamoro Organic Law on Wednesday. The proposal, which is expected to be signed by the President on Monday, allows for the creation of a Bangsamoro region in Muslim Mindanao.

When asked whether waiting for the success of the Bangsamoro would take too long and deter future bids for federalism, Sotto answered, "Kung makikita nila maganda, bakit sila mahihirapan? Eh kung hindi naman maganda, bakit natin gagalawin?"

[Translation: If they see that it's good, why would they have a hard time (selling federalism)? But if it isn't good, why would we change it?]

President Rodrigo Duterte, who campaigned on a promise of charter change, is pushing for a shift to federalism by the time his term ends. However, Pulse Asia and SWS surveys show a majority of Filipinos do not favor the change.

Consultative Committee (ConCom) Chair Reynato Puno pegged the best time for a plebiscite on the new constitution next year. This means transitory leaders could be elected by 2019. Another member of the ConCom, Nene Pimentel, prefers a looser calendar — a plebiscite by 2021.

Meanwhile, the House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants as much time as possible to deliberate on constitutional revision. He wants to scrap the 2019 mid-term elections and hold polls in 2022, effectively extending lawmakers' terms.

Sotto said that the Senate is not in a rush, as they sense the public is not yet aware of the implications of charter change. Alvarez maintained that they could turn to a people's initiative to discontinue elections.

Opposition Senator Bam Aquino also told The Source on Thursday that the upcoming State of the Nation Address will show if charter change is truly being rushed or not.

"In any case, we've already taken a stand on the issue. We will not be railroaded, we will not fasttrack it," said Aquino. "We will give it the proper time and the proper effort."

Aquino said he does not doubt the integrity of some members of the ConCom, including former Chief Justice Puno, former Associate Justice Antonio Nachura, and Pimentel. However, he thinks other lawmakers might be in on it for a prolonged stay in power.

"May mga tao talaga [There are people]... pushing for a federal form or a change in our Constitution who genuinely want to see real change," said Aquino. "There are those who want this because they want the 2019 elections postponed and they want to extend their terms."

Qualms with draft charter

The opposition senator also raised some qualms about the draft charter, saying that those in the committee offered political solutions for economic problems. He said the panel lacked representation from businessmen, women, and other sectors.

"Most of the business groups I've spoken to are worried about the change in the charter. Alam nila, kung may mag-iinvest at... walang political certainty, they will hold off talaga," said Aquino. "At alam naman natin, investment equals jobs."

[Translation: They know that investors will hold off if there is no political certainty. And we know that investment equals jobs.]

Meanwhile, the Senate President raised reservations regarding a new proposed provision that required the President to be a college graduate.

"Baka sabihin ng ibang kababayan natin, anti-poor dahil hindi lahat kaya makakatapos ng college," said Sotto. "Sasabihin nila na libre na ang tertiary (education). Oo, pero hindi naman libre ang pamasahe."

[Translation: Our fellow Filipinos might say that's anti-poor because not everyone can finish college. They will probably say tertiary (education) is now free. Yes, but the transport going there is not.]

He was also dissatisfied with the draft constitution's anti-political dynasty provision. The provision provides that only one member of a family, at least within the second level of affinity or consanguity, will be allowed to run in one national or one regional position. A sitting politician cannot be succeeded by his wife, sons, or daughters. The ConCom has said the provision is non-negotiable, but Congress will ultimately decide whether or not to pass the proposal.

Sotto noted in particular that there was no provision preventing third parties to a marriage or romantic interests of politicians from also holding office.

"Pero yung girlfriend, hindi nakalagay doon. Girlfriend or boyfriend," he said. "Still, the power of the official transgresses all factors — kasama ata ang mistress."

[Translation: The girlfriend or boyfriend isn't considered here. Still, the power of the official transgresses all factors — including (possible) mistresses.]

Aquino also did not believe the provision was firm enough.

The senator noted that it was applicable to all those running for public office except the President and Vice President.

"It's prospective but I found it very very irregular, if you will have an anti-dynasty provision but exempt the President," said Aquino. "Kung gagawin niyo na rin iyan, itodo niyo na. Huwag na kayo magbigay ng exemptions."

[Translation: If you're going to do that, go all the way. No exemptions.]