Senator: Plebiscite for federalism won't happen in 2019

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 14) — Senator Chiz Escudero is not sold on federalism — nor does he think it will pass Congress by next year, he said Tuesday.

When asked on CNN Philippines' The Source on Tuesday when he thought the plebiscite would take place, Escudero answered, "Not until after 2019, if at all it will happen."

The Consultative Committee (ConCom), handpicked by the President to review the 1987 Constitution and draft a federal charter, is pushing for a plebiscite by next year.

While the House of Representatives has said it would support the shift to federalism, the Senate is not so sure. Senator Ping Lacson previously said charter change was "as good as dead" in the upper house, casting doubt on the intentions of House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Even some Cabinet officials — particularly Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia — doubted the shift. This prompted Con-Com member Fr. Ranhilio Aquino to say the President should fire them if he is serious about federalism.

On his part, Escudero said the proposed federal charter is an "incomplete document" and "not perfect."

He pointed out that the administration's economic managers could not even peg the cost of federalism.

"If I were one of the economic managers of the President, the economy is growing... why would you change anything?" said Escudero. "As the saying goes, if it ain't broke, why fix it?"

As an alternative to federalism, the senator suggested shifting the internal revenue allotment to 60 percent for local governments and 40 percent to the national government, instead of the other way around.

"It will just entail an amendment to the Local Government Code," he said.

Escudero questions ₱90 million info campaign budget

The senator also questioned the allocation of ₱90 million into an information dissemination campaign on federalism. He maintained there was nothing to inform yet, because the draft of the federal charter was not final.

"What will they disseminate? Shouldn't we disseminate something that's final, set in stone, something that will be voted upon by the people-not something that can completely change?" said Escudero.

"If they conduct an information dissemination campaign then Congress totally changes it... what [will] happen to our ₱90 million?" he added.

Senator Kiko Pangilinan also noted that a participant in Baguio City said he attended four seminars, each with different proposals.

The information drive has been hounded by controversy, most recently after a controversial jingle posted by Presidential Communications Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson went viral. Both proponents of federalism and administration critics slammed the video as vulgar. Uson had been tasked with informing the public about the proposed government system, although she said the video was not in line with that assignment.

Prior to that, the federalism roadshow was slammed after the Philippine News Agency reported thousands of attendees in Bicol were supporters of charter change. It was also criticized as an early campaign platform for possible candidates like Special Assistant to the President Bong Go and presidential political adviser Francis Tolentino.