THE proposed shift to a federal form of government is not designed to prolong Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s term beyond 2022, said Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.
In a radio interview on Friday, January 5, Pimentel debunked speculations that Duterte’s term, as well as those of other incumbent officials, would be extended once the government shifts to federalism.
The Senate president took note that the ruling Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN) party has long been advocating federalism since 1982, when then-Davao City Mayor Duterte was still out of “radar.”
“Hindi ito for Duterte. 1982 pa e federalism na ang advocacy ng PDP-Laban. Wala pa sa radar, sa national level si President Duterte. So we’re doing this for Duterte? Malabo po yata ‘yun (It’s not for Duterte. PDP-Laban has been advocating federalism since 1992, when Duterte is still out radar, on the national level… That’s unlikely),” Pimentel told DZMM.
Pimentel currently serves as PDP-Laban’s president, while Duterte is the party’s chairman.
In contrast to claims of whom he labeled as “alarmists,” Pimentel remarked that a federal form of government would actually cut the chief executive’s power.
“In a federal form of government, you are creating other centers of power. Kaya nga ako bilib sa presidente natin (That’s why I admire him). He is willing to let go of some of his powers,” he said.
Pimentel explained that under federalism, there will be “11 centers of power” in the regions plus one center of power headed by an elected president—unlike in the country’s present unitary form of the government where all executive powers belong solely to the president.
While the proposal has yet to be finalized, Pimentel admitted that PDP-Laban is suggesting “a quite long” period for the transition, citing a possible length of eight to ten years. He clarified, however, that incumbent officials will enjoy term extensions due to the transition.
“Walang extension ng term (There will be no extension of terms),” he stressed, adding that “Walang (There’s no) hold over, hindi (it’s not) necessary.”
But on Wednesday, January 3, Pimentel said that Duterte may extend his term beyond 2022 “if necessary” and “if he is amenable to it” during the country’s possible transition to federalism.
Duterte term extension ‘out of the question’
In a statement, Malacañang assured the public that Duterte “has no wish to extend his term.”
Rather than extending his term, Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said that Duterte prefers to step down ahead of the expiration of his tenure should the push for a federal form of government succeed.
“If the Constitution can be amended, to provide for federalism and to provide for provisions that would strengthen public accountability, he has said, he is willing to cut short his term. So the idea of prolonging his term is out of the question,” Roque said in a briefing on Wednesday, January 3.
The Palace official also made it clear that the midterm elections in 2019 will push through “unless and until the Constitution is amended and ratified by the people.”
But for Senator Leila De Lima, Malacañang’s assurance should not be trusted.
“Sino’ng niloloko nila, at ilang beses na silang nanloloko? Ilang beses na ’yung iba ’yung sinasabi, iba ’yung ginagawa? Iba sinasabi sa isang araw, tapos binabawi the next day or a few days later? (Who are they trying to fool? How many times have they said something, but did another? They say one thing today, and take it back the next or a few days later),” said the senator, who is also a top critic of the administration.
She further urged Filipinos remain vigilant, saying that Duterte and his supporters are using the federalism campaign to prolong their stay in the office.
“Huwag po nating papayagan ’yan, ’yung maitim na balak nila. ’Yung no-el, ’yung federalism, na ’yung pinakahangad lang naman nila ay nand’yan sila sa p’westo, sa kapangyarihan, nang marami pang taon. (Let us not allow their evil plan to succeed. They just want to use the no-elections, federalism scenario to stay in office, to stay in power, for many more years),” De Lima said in a media interview on Friday, January 5.
Earlier this week, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez floated the idea of the possible cancellation of midterm elections in 2019 if the proposed shift to federalism gets approved this year.
Noting that the senators have different term expirations, the House speaker also remarked that it is only practical to extend their terms until 2022 for a transitory period. He stressed, however, that the matter depends on the decision that will be made by the constituent assembly.