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Charter Change and Federalism: Two important questions

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III

First of two parts

Two years ago, a forum was held to discuss the twin issues of federalism and amending the Constitution.

These issues are interrelated because the Constitution’s provision on the country’s form of government need to changed in order to allow the formation of a federal form of government for the Philippines.

The forum, which was sponsored by Business Mirror, the sister publication of Philippines Graphic, highlighted certain facts about these twin issues.

The first fact is that this country needs political reform. That much is obvious. And this plays right into the hands of the Duterte administration and its allies. And in their minds, the reform needed is Charter Change.

The second fact is that the Duterte administration does have the political capital to spend to push the process through at the moment, given its high opinion poll ratings.

However, there are two questions that need to be answered.

The first question is what kind of federal government will the country accept.

The second is how to settle the challenge posed by the Senate’s stand on protecting its say on how the Constitution will be changed. This is important since what was once speculation in that Business Mirror forum two years ago has been turned into fact due to events this January.

These are two important questions that must be answered.

HISTORY

There was a previous attempt to change the Constitution before. That was spearheaded by then Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the man known as the father of the country’s Local Government Code.

According to Pimentel, this attempt was made in the Senate in 2008. But it went nowhere.

After the Senate had passed a resolution for such an initiative, the House of Representatives ignored it.

The former senator said he supported the idea of federalism but under a presidential form of government, not a parliamentary one.

AWAY FROM IMPERIAL MANILA

“For a long time, power has been concentrated in the Metro Manila government,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel explained that political and economic power can be shared peacefully by converting the country into a federal republic.

Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

“I worked on the Local Government Code as an attempt to minimize the power of the national government,” he said. “The Local Government Code only deals with agriculture, social service and health matters.”

This meant the devolution of the Departments of Health, Agriculture, and Social Welfare and Development.

“The national government was very reluctant to delegate this power,” Pimentel said. “Super Typhoon Yolanda showed that these functions were not fully devolved.”

Pimentel said lessons can be learned from what happened.

“Let us move forward to adopt a doable and practical plan to speed up development of the country,” he said.

PIMENTEL’S VISION

Under Pimentel’s vision, the country should have 11 Federal states.

“My proposal is not written in stone, though,” he said. “We can basically use this as a basis of the different administrative regions of the country.”

The 11 Federal States according to Pimentel would be Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, MinPaRom (Mindoro, Palawan and Romblon), Northern Mindanao, Eastern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and the Federal State of Bangsamoro.

“Metro Manila will fall under a Federal Administrator,” he said.

Pimentel said the Senate should be expanded.

“There should be six senators per regional state to represent the increased population while state legislatures will be unicameral,” he said. “Each state legislature should be made up by three representatives from the province and city. “

“Adoption of the Federal system should not neglect basic matters,” he added. “There will be two Courts. One is the Supreme Court that’s responsible for the judiciary in general and the other one is a Constitutional Court.”

Pimentel suggested that taxes must be shared between the national and regional states.

“80% of taxes should go to the regional states while only 20% should go to the national government,” he said. “Economic restrictions must go. Federal states must have the power to invite foreign direct investments.”

CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY

On whether the change should be by Constitutional Convention or Constituent Assembly, Pimentel took a definite stand.

Pimentel said the Senate should vote on the matter of changing the Constitution separately from the House of Representatives. He was not alone with this view.

The words of Senator Vicente Sotto and Pimentel at the Business Mirror forum two years ago has been proven as valid with the recent events at the Senate.

Two years ago, Sotto said the likely thing to occur was that Congress will form itself into a Constituent Assembly to amend the Constitution to allow the formation of a federal form of government.

“For a Constituent Assembly to be realized, the Senate and House merely have to pass a joint resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly,” he added. “That’s how we see it.”

And he was right.

The House of Representatives has already passed a resolution supporting a Constituent Assembly. As of this writing, the Senate is in the process of doing the same.

However, what is preventing both houses of Congress from jointly passing a resolution to support the convening of a Constituent Assembly?

ONE IMPORTANT ISSUE

Sotto said during the forum two years ago that a majority of senators will support convening a Constituent Assembly if one important issue was settled.

“We must settle the issue of voting separately,” he said.

“There are four instances in the Constitution itself that mentions the phrase ‘voting separately.’ The first is Article VI, Section 23. The second is Section 4 of Article VII. The third time it is mentioned is in Section 9. The fourth time it is mentioned is in Section 11,” Sotto said.  “The only time when it is mentioned that Congress would vote jointly is on the issue of martial law on whether to repeal or proceed with martial law.”

“The Senate will only be amenable to a Constituent Assembly if we will vote separately,” Sotto added. “Otherwise, the Senate will be eaten up by the three hundred members of the House of Representatives.”

Two years later, that stand has become official.

According to reports, Senators have unanimously agreed to take that as the Senate’s official position during an all-party caucus.

The seriousness of the matter was driven home when not one senator opposed Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s motion to expel from the Senate any senator who will attend the joint assembly called for by the House of Representatives.

According to Senate President Koko Pimentel, the son of former Sen. Nene Pimentel, the Senate believes it was better to spend a year’s work to amend the Constitution. The younger Pimentel said an amended Constitution could be ready for a referendum by 2019.

This was contrary to the stand of the Duterte administration’s allies in the House of Representatives.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez

In their view, the entire process of amending the Constitution can be finished in time for a referendum coinciding with the elections schedule for this May. That’s barely four months from now.

House Speaker Panteleon Alvarez knows time is ticking. He has invited the Senate leadership to a meeting to settle the thorny issue.

Alvarez insists the law was on the side of the House of Representatives, emphasizing that the words of the present Constitution used the word “jointly”, not separately, with regards to a Constituent Assembly.

The House Speaker also opened up the possibility that the matter could be brought before the Supreme Court.

TO BE CONTINUED

 

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