• Include Sabah in talks on federalism, govt urged

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    Proposals to adopt federalism as the new system of government in the Philippines should also include the country’s claim to Sabah, former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. told a Senate committee hearing on Thursday.

    Pimentel, founder of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), which carried President Rodrigo Duterte during the May 2016 presidential elections, insisted that Sabah is part of the Philippines and there are documents that could support such claim.

    While most Filipinos believe that the Philippines is composed only of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, historical evidence would prove that Sabah belongs to the Philippines, according to the former senator.

    “Let us keep in mind that Sabah is a part of the Republic of the Philippines and there are documentary evidence which can withstand the test of the United Nations,” Pimentel told the members of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes headed by Senate President Franklin Drilon.

    Drilon’s committee started a hearing on proposals to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution, including the possible shift to federalism from the present unitary system.

    The Senate panel invited resource persons from various sectors including the business community, labor, academe, civil society, sectoral and religious groups, as well as respected constitutional and legal experts and former Supreme Court justices.

    Sen. Leila de Lima expressed reservation on Pimentel’s proposal, noting that the inclusion of Sabah issue in discussions on federalism could complicate the discourse and the entire process.

    “Insofar as the issue of federalism, there is a very serious reservation about including such discourse [Sabah], such a proposed course of action because it will certainly not only complicate but further delay the process,” de Lima said.

    Pimentel admitted that the inclusion of the Sabah issue would probably complicate things because he does not expect Malaysia to just be quiet about it.

    But Filipinos must not forget that Sabah belongs to the Philippines, otherwise future generations would just look at the country as Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

    In pursuing the country’s Sabah claim, Pimentel said, there is a need for the government to use the institutions of the UN especially relating to the Convention of the Law of the Sea.

    Duterte, before he assumed the presidency, vowed to pursue the Philippine claim to Sabah, which is currently under Malaysia.

    Pimentel is proposing a federal system that will establish at least 12 federal states, including the Bangsamoro state, which he believes would help achieve lasting peace in the region.

    “Unless we come up with a federal state of the Bangsamoro, the shooting war in Mindanao will continue,” he said.

    Under his proposal, the President and Vice President will still be elected but as a tandem and make sure that two will get along well.

    “I think that over the years when the President and Vice President come from different parties, upon election, controversies begin to arise,” he noted.

    There will be no changes in the current set-up for congressmen under Pimentel’s proposal but senators will be elected by federal states to ensure that every part of the Philippines will be duly represented in the Senate.

    Pimentel pointed out that in the last elections, it was only Drilon who was elected senator coming from the Visayas region and nobody was elected to represent Eastern Visayas and Central Visayas.

    In Mindanao, he said, only Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao were from the region.

    “So I am suggesting that the senators therefore should be elected by federal state so that we ensure that all parts of this Republic would be duly represented in the [Senate],” Pimentel added.

    He also suggested that there will be six senators for every federal state, increasing the number of senators to 72.

    The former lawmaker said the number is not that big considering that the Philippines now has a population of 104 million.

    According to Pimentel, 24 as the number of senators was based on the period when the population of the country was only 18 million to 20 million.

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