President Rodrigo Duterte rebuked his allies Thursday for trying to benefit from Charter change and ruled out their proposals to postpone the 2019 elections so that they could stay in office.
“I will not have any hand in no-el,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque quoted the President as saying, referring to a bid by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to call off the 2019 midterm elections to ostensibly focus on amending the Constitution to enable a shift to a federal form of government.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, said the Speaker’s allies in the House would be unable to easily launch a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution because there is no enabling law to do so after the Supreme Court struck down one such law in 1989.
“In order for us to realize a people’s initiative, we need to pass an enabling law and review the inadequacies mentioned by the Supreme Court,” Sotto said.
Roque said the President firmly believes in democracy and opts to synchronize the referendum on the proposed federal charter with the 2019 midterm polls.
“He does not really approve the no-el [no election] move just to facilitate Charter change. We would like to inform the people, that is the decision of the President... He has asked the Consultative Committee to include the provision that would ensure that he will not benefit from Charter change. He would like to see all his allies do the same thing—not to benefit from Charter change, leading by way of example,” he said.
However, Roque added that Duterte would heed the sentiment of the public if the elections are canceled through a people’s initiative—one of three ways the Constitution may be amended.
, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez proposed that the administration should cancel the midterm elections, emphasizing that having no elections next year would be practical, would give lawmakers an ample time to tackle salient changes in the Charter, and would deliver a much smoother transition to a new form of government.
Alvarez further suggested that advocates of federalism may begin a people’s initiative in case the Senate remains ambivalent about delaying the 2019 elections.
Under the Article XVII, Section 2 of the 1987 Constitution, “amendments to the Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes therein.”
Some senators spoke out against Alvarez’s proposal.
Senator Panfilo Lacson regarded the move as “wrong and self-serving,” adding that senators would not permit it to occur.
“It goes without saying, a majority of the senators, even those running for reelection, will fight tooth and nail any attempt to cancel the 2019 midterm elections simply because it is wrong and self-serving,” Lacson said in a statement Wednesday.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said a people’s initiative can only be used as a mode to change the Constitution if the amendment is a minor one.
“The changing of the term of government officials is a major amendment, which cannot be done through a people’s initiative,” he said.
Senator Grace Poe said, “It is a lengthy and tedious process. The Speaker should not try any shortcuts and tricks if he believes the proposed charter is judicious and a true solution to the needs of our people.”
At the Kapihan sa Senado forum Thursday, Sotto said the lack of an enabling law stood in the way of Alvarez’s plan for a people’s initiative.
He added that even if a people’s initiative were called, it can move the date of the election but may not extend the terms of incumbent officials.
“Why do we need no-el? Please explain it to us, maybe you will convince a majority of the senators to support it if you can explain it,” Sotto said, noting that most of his fellow senators would oppose any term extensions.
“I do not want to be speaking for everyone else but that is the sense that I am getting from the rest of the Senate,” he said.
Senator Benigno Aquino III said any attempt by the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution without the Senate would be unconstitutional.
Also on Thursday, former prime minister and finance minister Cesar Virata said only four of the 18 proposed region-states could sustain operations in a federal system of government.
GMA News Online quoted the Marcos-era finance minister as saying advocates of a federal system might prefer to focus on just three states, Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Virata’s comments dovetailed with those offered by Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, who said he was concerned that a shift to a federal system of government at this time would slow down economic growth.
The Palace has dismissed such concerns.
In a radio interview, University of the Philippines Chancellor Michael Tan rejected any plan to postpone the 2019 elections and opposed plans to amend the Constitution by way of a constituent assembly.
Talking to radio dzMM, Tan said given the strength of the executive branch, it could easily influence members of a constituent assembly, especially if its members are appointed. With Rio N. Araja