May referendum for Federal Charter eyed

The leadership of the House of Representatives on Wednesday said Congress is eyeing to submit to the public for referendum the proposed new Federal Charter as early as May.

In an interview, Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez said if the 17th Congress could convene into a Constituent Assembly (Con-ass) this month, the proposed Federal Charter could be ready for referendum simultaneous with the barangay elections on May 14.

Alvarez said this should not be a problem, as Senate President Aquilino L. Pimentel III is an official of the ruling party—the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP)—that advocates federalism.

According to the Speaker, convening Congress into a Con-ass to propose Charter amendments and the shift to federalism is the top priority of the House when session resumes on January 15.

“No. 1 is the convening of Congress into a Con-ass and revising the Constitution—a shift from a unitary to a federal form of government,” he said.

Alvarez added that he is confident of the support of the super majority for the Con-ass, but admitted he has no idea if there is enough number in the Senate in support of the proposal.

No election

Meanwhile, Alvarez said that, if a new Constitution for a federal form of government is accepted by the Filipino people, the timetable of forthcoming elections may be affected, including the 2019 midterm polls.

He said the senators are concerned over their political career with the possible dissolution of the Senate in a federal setup, but they should not be worried because they could be eligible to run for election to the new legislature.

However, Alvarez acknowledged that there could be some disagreements over the issue of voting jointly or separately in a Con-ass, noting that the 1987 Constitution is silent on this issue.

Personally, Alvarez said he believes the assembly should vote jointly. “Anything is possible…let’s be practical. If we shift into a different form of government, unitary to federal, you need a transition government,” he noted.

Under the federal setup the PDP is pushing for, Alvarez said the system would likely retain the position of President, which is elected at large by the Filipino people and would act as head of state. There would be a Prime Minister, who would be the head of the government. During Congress’s last session day of 2017, the House of Representatives began the plenary debates on the convening of the 17th Congress as a Con-ass under House Concurrent Resolution 9.

Under Con-ass, it’s the sitting lawmakers themselves—congressmen and senators—who will serve as the delegates.

‘Full steam ahead’

House Committee on Appropriations Chairman Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte Jr. said it’s now “full steam ahead” in Congress for the process to shift to a federal system of government, now that President Duterte has completed his list of 25 members that will comprise the Constitutional Commission (Concom) tasked to propose amendments to the Constitution.

The lawmaker, in a statement, said that, besides completing the Concom’s membership, which includes retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno and former Senate President Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr., the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council also included this proposed shift to federalism on its list of 27 priority bills.

“All these positive developments mean that the process to shift to federalism is now in full throttle. As I have been saying all along, federalism will only fulfill its goal of redistributing wealth to the countryside if it is accompanied by moves to liberalize the Constitution’s restrictive economic provisions,” Villafuerte said.

Thus, he added, amending the Constitution should also include removing the provisions that limit foreign ownership in various sectors of the economy.

“Federalism and foreign investments will sustain the economy’s growth momentum and enable the government to put flesh into President Duterte’s vision to disperse growth and development to the regions,” Villafuerte said.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles of Davao City said the 1987 Constitution must first be opened up for amendments to allow the establishment of autonomous federal states.

“These are Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, NCR/Metro Manila, Bicol, Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and Bangsamoro,” he said.

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments’s four technical working groups (TWGs) are already drafting a proposed Philippine Federal Constitution.

TWG 1 chaired by Rep. Corazon Nuñez-Malanyaon of Negros Oriental is handling the provisions on the Executive-Legislative (Articles 6 and VII); New article on Federal and Regional Powers, Numbers of States; and Local Government and Taxation/Allocation of Resources (Article X).

TWG 2 chaired by Deputy Speaker Fredenil H. Castro of the Second District of Capiz is drafting the provisions on the Judiciary (Article VIII); Amendments or Revisions (Article XVII); Suffrage (Article V), Citizenship (Article IV); and Bill of Rights (Article III).

TWG 3 chaired by Rep. Alfredo B. Benitez of the Third District of  Negros Occidental is preparing the Preamble; National Territory (Article I); Declaration of Principles and State Policies (Article II); General Provisions (Article XVI); and Transitory Provisions (Article XVIII). Last, TWG 4 chaired by Rep. Vicente S. tVeloso of the Third District of Leyte is handling Social Justice, Labor and Others (Article XIII); Education, Science and Others (Article XIV); National Economy and Patrimony (Article XII); New article on the Bill of Duties; Accountability of Public Officials (Article XI); and Family (Article XV).



Jovee Marie de la Cruz

Jovee Marie Dela Cruz is working as a reporter in the country's leading business newspaper the BusinessMirror since 2013.
Ms. Dela Cruz, who is in the media industry for 8 years, is currently covering the House of Representatives.
She graduated from Universidad De Manila with a degree of Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2008.
At present, Ms. Dela Cruz is finishing up her master's degree in communication at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP).