Palace: Duterte not abandoning federalism push

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 21 2019 02:42 PM

MANILA - The administration is not yet giving up on its push to change the country’s form of government to federalism, the Palace said Monday, after President Rodrigo Duterte hinted last week he might just opt to have the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution amended.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte still believes that federalism will solve the many problems of the country, and that a push for economic amendments may just be an option in case Congress fails to make his legislative priority into reality.

“The President is a very creative person. If he feels that one method is not practical or cannot be realized, he goes to another mode. What is important to him is certain provisions in the constitution must be amended, and that is the judgment call of the Congress,” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

“The President is optimistic because he knows federalism will help the development of this country. It’s a matter of I think time on the part of Congress to do it.”

In a speech in Cotabato City last Friday, Duterte said people are used to voting their leaders, a democratic right that may be diminished if the country shifts to a federal form of government. He added, he might just then opt for amending the economic provisions of the charter.

“Much as we would like to change anything there. Pati ‘yung atin dito (Even ours here). We have been used to it. We are the people governed by elections. And we elect leaders. The leaders must be the choice of the people. I am sure that with that --- the fundamentals provided by the law and hopefully if you can amend the Constitution, not all, but a few of the economic provisions and some,” Duterte said in a speech at a peace assembly in Cotabato City.

But Panelo said Duterte’s statement does not mean the chief executive has already abandoned his push for federalism, one of his primary campaign promises.

“He was just expressing an idea. It depends how members of Congress would take it,” he said.

“Perhaps what he is saying is it takes too long for Congress to act on it. He has been advocating for revision of the Constitution at the inception of his presidency. Congress has not taken serious moves to make it a realization.”

Duterte had formed a consultative committee that crafted a proposed federal charter that will replace the 1987 Constitution, but the group has expressed dismay after its proposals were set aside by the House of Representatives led by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Instead of adopting proposals of the Palace-backed committee, Arroyo came up with her own charter change proposal that, among others, removed term limits for lawmakers and rules seeking to stop political dynasties from thriving.

Some senators slammed such controversial provisions in the Arroyo draft charter, saying it would be “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber.

Arroyo has since left the task of revising the charter to the next Congress, as the midterm elections drew near and the current Congress is still busy prioritizing the already delayed approval of the 2019 national budget.

Duterte has pitched the federal form of government as an antidote to the country’s inequality problems. He said giving more powers to local governments would empower people in the countryside and better address their needs.

But delays in the crafting of the proposed federal charter, as well as strong opposition from various groups, have triggered doubts as to whether the shift to federalism could still be achieved under the Duterte administration.