Cart before horse

Maybe it’s just me, but all this talk about “term extensions” and “no elections” is just way premature. And a case of putting the political cart before the constitutional reform horse.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez was supposedly the first person to talk about these things, when he was discussing priorities of Congress in the new year. But Alvarez was really talking about a shift in the form of government, from unitary-presidential to federal-parliamentary, an idea long espoused by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Of course, the critics of the Duterte administration, led by Vice President Leni Robredo, were quick to see “no-el” scenarios, specifically with regard to the holding of the midterm elections next year. And no amount of explaining that these supposed “threats to democracy” (as Robredo called them) will only happen after the 1987 Constitution is revised first will placate them.

But did Alvarez really float the idea of postponing the scheduled elections? A review of the television interview last week where he was supposed to have said so is actually unclear on the matter.

The Philippine Star reported last Jan. 4 on the Alvarez interview on ABS-CBN, saying: “When asked if this [push for federalism] could lead to a no-elections scenario in 2019, Alvarez said, ‘I have to be frank, anything is possible. You know why? Let’s be practical. If you shift to a new system of government, you need a transition. You cannot implement it immediately after it is ratified.’”

As for Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, Alvarez’ PDP-Laban party mate and alleged “riding in tandem” partner in a bid to float a no-el, term-extension scenario, he’s even more of a non-starter on the issue. In a text message to reporters last week, this is what Pimentel said:

“Depends... on when we approve the new Constitution. If 2019, then the next three years will be the transitory period. We can extend the President’s term 1. if really necessary, and 2. if he is amenable to it, and 3. since that extension will be part of the new Constitution, the new Constitution is approved by the people themselves,”

Malacañang, through its spokesman Harry Roque, also made it clear last week that the elections next year will push through unless revisions to the charter are made and the changes are ratified before the polls. And that, less than a year and a half before May 2019, is one big “unless.”

The context is absolutely clear for anyone not belonging to Robredo’s Liberal Party or various other politicians who are automatically inclined to believed that Duterte intends to stay in power beyond his term. Revising the constitution, a long and arduous process that nearly all previous administrations have attempted since 1987, has to happen first before we can even talk about postponing the midterm elections.

I know Alvarez has near-absolute control over the majority in his House. And that Pimentel also holds sway (albeit by a substantially slimmer margin) in his own chamber.

But for the life of me, I can’t see how the effort to change the basic law can happen by the end of this year, by which time our political system will be consumed by the preparations for the midterm polls. I just don’t see it happening in the amount of time remaining before the campaign period for the midterms starts.

As proof, I present the fact that even the old debates about “con-ass vs. con-con” and about the two chambers voting separately or together have not been resolved. And the promise, made supposedly by the president in a Cabinet meeting last Monday (as reported by Roque), that the elections will take place as scheduled next year.

I think Robredo and all the other politicians from the opposition who are getting their undies in a bunch over these scenarios are just hell-bent on painting yet another “Duterte is a dictator” masterpiece. And just because they’ve scared themselves silly by actually believing these theoretical situations that they themselves created doesn’t necessarily make them true.

It’s just more useless political talk from the usual do-nothing suspects. We can all move along now, because there’s really nothing to see here.

* * *

What’s more deserving of comment is Duterte’s request for the Department of Budget and Management to find a way to double the entry-level pay of public school teachers through the second phase of the tax reform package, also known as TRAIN. According to Roque, Duterte wants a doubling of the teachers’ pay similar to the president’s earlier proposal to hefty increases in the salaries of policemen and soldiers.

The government will push Congress to approve the second phase of the three-phase TRAIN starting this month. The second part of the tax reform scheme will focus on reducing corporate income taxes while plugging leaks in the system of handing out financial incentives to various industries.

It’s not known yet how Duterte and his DBM will find the money, except that it’s supposed to come from revenues in the second part of TRAIN. But if no one among Duterte’s critics mentions the plan to double the teachers’ pay, I really won’t be surprised.

Topics: Cart before horse

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