President Rodrigo R. Duterte wants to hold general elections to determine who will be the transitional leader during the proposed shift to a federal system of government, Malacañang said Tuesday.
“If this new constitution is approved, the President said that he will step down in 2019,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said, one day after Duterte received the draft federal constitution from the consultative committee he formed to draft the proposal.
He said that under the proposed constitution, the new government will take effect June 30, 2022, the last day of Duterte’s term, but the President said he would leave his post as early as 2019 if the people ratify the federal constitution.
The 73-year-old President has repeatedly said that he was “tired” and wanted someone “younger” to take his place.
Earlier, the Con-Com bared that Duterte will lead the 10-member Transition Commission on Federalism which will “formulate and adopt a transition plan for the orderly shift to the new system of government, as provided for in the new Constitution.”
Following the President’s instructions to cut his term short to erase suspicions of plans to stay in power beyond 2022, the Con-Com said it will review and revise the transitory provisions.
Roque said Duterte’s decision to step down early will be pursuant to the transitory provisions of the proposed federal constitution, which the people may ratify.
Roque earlier said that Duterte was willing to serve as the transitional leader as long as he will serve within his term or until mid-2022. However, Duterte apparently changed his mind and wanted to step down as early as possible.
“That is why he asked the Con-Com to change the transitory provision to recognize that the transition leader will have to be elected,” Roque said in Filipino.
“In other words, the new constitution, if ratified, will be the instrument that will cut short the term of the President,” Roque added.
On Monday, Roque pointed out that if the public rejects or does not ratify the new charter, Duterte will not be allowed to step down until he finishes his term.
The Con-Com has yet to release the qualifications of who may run for the position of transitional leader but according to Roque, any qualified presidential candidate may run for transitional leader.
Roque, however, said it is best to wait for the Con-Com’s declaration.
Roque pointed out that the holding of a referendum on the new charter may occur simultaneously with the 2019 mid-term elections.
“We are expecting it to be held at the same time as 2019 elections so it will be part of the budget of the 2019 elections,” Roque said.
Roque also said that the government had enough funds for the possible transition to a federal system of government, noting that a supplemental budget could always be sought for from Congress.
In the House, Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said they have no timetable yet for the proposed Charter change being pushed by the administration because the draft has not even been transmitted to Congress.
Meanwhile, Party-list Representatives Gary Alejano of Magdalo and Antonio Tinio of ACT Teachers said the proposed federal constitution would give Duterte “enormous power” if he leads the Federal Transition Commission.
“Aside from appointing members of FTC, he will have sweeping powers of practically appointing all officials in government, including [those in] independent constitutional bodies,” Alejano said.
Alejano called this a “dangerous proposition with the way that the President appoints some unqualified people in government and how these people support his murderous policies.”
Tinio echoed Alejano’s view, saying the Con-Com approved federal charter will only give Duterte dictatorial powers.
“The Con-Com’s federal charter gives the President powers to supervise all three branches of the government,” Tinio said. “It will give Duterte extraordinary powers in case of national emergencies.”
Opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV branded Duterte’s promise to shorten his term as “a trap.”
“Let us not again be deceived [by] this kind of promise by Duterte,” Trillanes said.
He said this was just like the promise of Duterte to clean the country of corruption, crimes and illegal drugs in three to six months, and that if he failed, he would resign.
Trillanes further accused Duterte of merely wanting to deceive and entrap the senators so they would agree to the charter change so that they could “rape” the Constitution.
He warned that this would eventually result in the postponement of the 2019 elections and Duterte remaining in his post.
“We should not agree to that system,” Trillanes said. “Now if he really wants to resign since he’s already tired, he should immediately do it.”
Trillanes, a staunch critic of the President, said Duterte should not resort to drama and should not set conditions.
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Pangilinan said any talk of term extension or no-election scenario leaves a bad taste in the mouth, especially when prices of rice and other basic food items are rising and the government has just increased taxes.
“Jobs and additional pay of the people and not term extension and pay of politicians are the clamor of the public,” said Pangilinan, who is president of the opposition Liberal Party.
Pangilian guaranteed they will oppose any move to ignore the right of the people to choose their candidates in an election.