No elections in 2019? Anything is possible - Speaker

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 03 2018 10:00 AM | Updated as of Jan 03 2018 02:36 PM

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MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - There could be no midterm elections in 2019 if Congress succeeds in changing the charter that allows a shift to a federal form of government, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said Wednesday.

Speaking to ANC, Alvarez said convening both houses of Congress as a constituent assembly this month to revise the Constitution is his number 1 priority. He noted that PDP-Laban as a party has always backed a shift to federalism. 

"If we can convene by January, pwede nating i-submit yan for referendum sa barangay elections by May. Kung trabahuhin lang, walang imposible," he said. 

Asked about a no-election scenario next year, he said: "Anything is possible…Let’s be practical. Pag nag-shift ka into a different form of government, unitary to federal, you need a transition government." 

Alvarez explained that terms of senators don't expire at the same time and noted that it would be better if all senators end their term by 2022.

"In fairness, maganda siguro kung ipa-expire mo lahat sa 2022 para wala ka nang utang," he said, adding that it will all depend on the "transitory provision" that will be agreed upon by the constituent assembly.

The Speaker said there are ways to gain the support of senators, who for now do not seem to be supporting the move outright, as he noted that there is no reason for Senate President Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III not to rally for it in his chamber.

"This is a question of patriotism, ano yung tama at kailangan sa bayan," he said.

For his part, Pimentel said the Philippines can continue the shift to a federal form of government and still allow scheduled elections under the existing Constitution to continue.

"That is not an 'either or' situation. We can shift to federalism and allow all scheduled elections under the existing Constitution to go on and be held," he said in a statement. 

"And before we can operate under a new Constitution, the provisions of the existing Constitution must be followed. Hence, if there are scheduled elections under the existing Constitution then this must be followed," he added.

The Palace echoed the same sentiment, saying President Rodrigo Duterte adheres to the Constitution, and the Constitution sets the next elections in 2019.

"Unless the Constitution is amended ahead of the 2019 elections, it will have to push through," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters.

Though the Constitution is silent on the matter, Alvarez said he would want the House and Senate to vote jointly on the revisions on the Constitution, adding that it may be an issue resolved by the Supreme Court.

He also responded to allegations that the Senate may not be supportive to moves toward federalism because it is perceived as a threat to dissolve their chamber.

"Originally naman, balikan natin yung kasaysayan ng Pilipinas, unicameral naman talaga tayo. So anong kinatatakot natin? Puwede naman silang tumakbo…Kailangan lang bang Senado ang kanilang tatakbuhan? Puwede ka namang tumakbo kung anoman yung legislative branch na make-create ng bagong Saligang Batas. Tumakbo sila na presidente, na whatever," he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte has been urging his legislative allies to start working on changing the Philippines' form of government as he considers his 6-year term a "small window" where federalization can be pushed. 

The president, however, recently said the “problem is I think the Filipinos are not yet ready for a federal type (of government). It doesn’t seem to ring a bell in the Visayas and Mindanao.”

Under the federalism proposal of PDP-Laban, a dual executive setup will be applied, with the president as the head of the state, chief diplomat, and commander in chief of the military. He also has the powers to appoint members of the judiciary.

The prime minister will function as the head of the government, dealing with day-to-day affairs such as domestic and economic policy. He also has the function of appointing members of the Cabinet.

Jonathan Malaya, executive director of the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute, said PDP-Laban is open to having an “optional” vice president on the condition that both president and vice president are elected from the same political party through tandem voting.

The country’s legislature meanwhile will maintain a bicameral setup under the PDP proposal.

Malaya said under their proposal, the second chamber, or the Senate will act as a representative body of the regions with each region being accorded with around 3-7 senators.