A shift from a presidential to a federal form of government is possible for the Philippines if President-elect Rodrigo Duterte pushes its legislation and Congress works fast to amend the Constitution, former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and incoming Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said on Tuesday.
Pimentel and Mandanas believe that Congress can amend the Charter in just six months.
“It is good if it is done immediately” while Duterte’s popularity remains high in the minds of the people, Pimentel said in a news briefing. “Mas madaling kumbinsihin ang mga tao ngayon kaysa later on [It is easier to convince the people now than later],” he said.
“You do it by Constituent Assembly, then form a leadership. You can do it in six months basta hindi magkalat ang diskusyon doon [as long as discussions go smoothly],” the former senator said.
“They [Duterte administration] will help me push for it in any systematic manner. Hindi naman ako nababahala dyan [I am not worried],” he added.
However, Pimentel noted that it is important for the people to know and understand what federalism is, and why the Duterte camp is advocating it.
With a federal form of government, Pimentel said, basic services will be given directly to the people.
“It will bring the matter of development to the hands of the people more directly. In other words, power will now be transferred from the hands of a highly centralized government in Metro Manila to the different federal states in a realistic manner so that it will benefit the ordinary man on the streets. They will no longer depend on the national government,” he explained.
Pimentel said under federalism, each federal state shall be represented by one senator, governor and vice governor and other local officials.
But, according to him, the only way to change the form of government is by amending the Charter.
“You cannot just pass an ordinary law. You have to revise the Constitution,” he pointed out.
In 2008, Pimentel filed a joint resolution seeking to form a federal government, but the move never took off in the Senate because some lawmakers were worried that it be might be used to extend the term of then-President Gloria Arroyo.
“I filed a resolution to hold a Constituent Assembly which was approved by 16 senators at the time,” the former lawmaker recalled.
Pimentel said the best way to change the system is through a Constitutional Convention, although this is more costly.
Under Section 1, Article XVII of the Constitution, accepted manners of amending the Constitution will be done either through a Constitutional Convention, Constituent Assembly or People’s Initiative.
Meanwhile, Mandanas said the Charter can be amended if the Duterte administration has the political will to do so.
When Mandanas was a congressman, he filed a resolution amending the Constitution and even introduced a measure on how amendments could be legally expedited.
The governor-elect said there is a fourth and more expeditious way of amending the Constitution – the Senate and House of Representatives introducing a measure and each chamber voting on it separately.
For the bill to take effect, it should be approved by 75 percent of the members of the Senate and the House, Mandanas added.
The incoming governor of Batangas also pointed out that a plebiscite is required in approving any amendment to the Constitution, except when introduced through People’s Initiative.
Pimentel said Mandanas’ proposal is acceptable.
“To my mind, the interpretation of Governor Mandanas is encompassed already in the third way – the Constituent Assembly. He is right [because the original plan of the Constitutional Commission called by then-President Corazon Aquino was to have only one House but we ended up having two],” Pimentel said.
“Now you have to talk to two Houses of Congress [where the Senate and the House can adopt a principle for revising the Constitution by voting separately. Separately because there are only 24 senators, and they will be defeated by almost 300 congressmen],” he added.