MALACAÑANG said on Wednesday the midterm elections would push through in 2019 as scheduled unless the Constitution was amended.
The Palace issued the statement through Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque Jr., who told a press conference: “The President always looks to the Constitution as his guiding document. The Constitution sets the date for the next elections in 2019. So unless the Constitution is amended ahead of the 2019 elections, it will have to push through.”
“The role of the President is to implement the Constitution and the law. As I said, it is the Constitution that sets when the next election is. The law required of Congress for election purposes will only enable the spending of public funds in that regard,” he added.
Roque issued the statement following pronouncements by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez in a television interview early Wednesday that there would be no need for mid-term elections in 2019 if there would be a shift to a federal form of government from the current presidential system.
Moreover, the President’s term could be extended because of changes to the Constitution.
“Anything is possible. You know why? Let’s be practical. If you shift into a different form of government – unitary to a federal – you need a transition government. You cannot approve [federalism]by May [of this year]and implement it immediately,” Alvarez said in an interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel.
But Roque, in a text message sent to reporters on Wednesday, said Duterte himself was averse to the idea.
“I can categorically state that PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte) does not want that. He wants to cut short his term rather than lengthen it,” Roque said.
Alvarez said that the proposal could be submitted to a plebiscite and if the public would agree, there would be no elections in 2019.
Senate President Aquino Pimentel 3rd said Congress could extend the term of the President only if it was necessary, and if the President was amenable to it.
“Since that extension will be part of the new constitution, the new constitution is approved by the people themselves,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel also said the scheduled 2019 mid-term elections would still push through even if Congress managed to come up with the new constitution this year.
“What is important are the transitory provisions that will govern the terms and duties of those elected and the last election under the 1987 Constitution,” he said.
Senate to be dissolved?
Expecting opposition from the Senate, Alvarez said it would be better if all senators ended their terms in 2022.
Alvarez said the possible dissolution of the Senate should not be an issue if the shift to federalism pushed through.
“Let’s go back to the history of the Philippines. We are unicameral. What are [the senators]afraid of? [The senators] can still run, not necessarily in the Senate. They can run in any legislative branch in the new Constitution, they can even run for President, whatever,” Alvarez said.
At the same time, the speaker allayed fears of “vested interests” among those pushing for federalism, and clamed the matter was “incidental.”
“If we have an election in 2019, that is not a problem. But we should see what is practical. What is our objective? We will shift into a federal form of government, the structure of the government will be shifted, there will be states,” Alvarez said.
“We will elect a governor of the state and we will not know if the provinces, the municipalities, the cities will have the same setup,” he added.
In a statement, Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said the approval of and shift to federalism would be a priority for Congress in 2018.
Nograles said those who voted for Duterte during the May 2016 elections in effect gave their stamp of approval on federalism, one of the President’s campaign promises.
Nograles said the 1987 Constitution must first be reviewed for amendments that would allow for the establishment of autonomous federal states, namely Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, Metro Manila, Bicol, Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and Bangsamoro.
Federalism, not term extension
Pimentel however maintained that the priority in changing the Constitution was federalism and not extending the term of the President.
“The objective is federalism. That’s all,” the Senate president responded when asked if extending the term of Duterte was among the objectives of charter change.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon in a separate text message said the real purpose of federalism appears to be term extension.
The erstwhile ruling Liberal Party will not take the matter sitting down, he said.
“The cat is out of the bag! At least, the real purpose of federalism is out—term extension,” he added.
Liberal Party President Sen. Francis Pangilinan also expressed reservations over the proposed charter change to push for federalism, noting several incidents cast doubt on the sincerity of its proponents.
“After witnessing the congressional hearings on extrajudicial killings, on Senator (Leila) de Lima’s alleged connection with drug syndicates, on the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling scandal allegedly involving the Davao group, the impeachment of Chief Justice Sereno, the approval of the one-year extension of martial law in Mindanao, the slashing of the CHR (Commission on Human Rights) budget to P1,000, will you trust Congress with charter change?” he said in statement.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson does not see congress being able to meet the target date for a plebiscite.
Lacson said holding the plebiscite in May was easier said than done because changing the Constitution involved a lot of work.
“Time is not on the side of those advocating for change of our Constitution,” he said.
WITH RALPH U. VILLANUEVA AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA
(This story has been updated to add two paragraphs omitted during the editing process. – Ed.)