President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23 will be extra special because, on that day, he is expected to submit to Congress the final draft of the proposed “Federal Constitution.”
While to serve as a mere guide for the Senate and the House of Representatives in hammering out a new Constitution, the draft charter approved yesterday by a 22-member Constitutional Committee (ConCom) has been touted by its authors as “interference-free.”
The third year of the Duterte administration, with its Build, Build, Build infrastructure program gaining momentum and the charter-change initiated shift from a presidential to a federal form of government, could well define the second half of his six-year term.
But if Duterte will have his way, once a federal government has been put in place of a unitary system being blamed for the underdevelopment of far-flung regions of the country, he could quit his post ahead of his term’s end in 2022.
The President has said he’s “in a hurry” to step down from the presidency to dispel fears he would seek term extension through charter change.
“If there can be a federal [government] set up in 2020, I’m going to step down,” Duterte said of the shift which served as a pillar of his campaign in 2016 as Partido Demokratiko Pilipino (PDP) standard-bearer.
“I don’t want any transition position. I don’t have plans of perpetuating myself in power,” Duterte added.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III have been Duterte’s allies in pushing a federal-parliamentary form of government that can break Manila’s stranglehold on power.
Alvarez and Pimentel have been going around the country to promote federalism.
According to Alvarez, the federated regions would no longer be at the mercy of a centrist budget allocation as the regions are now.
The federated states – 18 in all under the charter approved by the ConCom – would have access to 80 to 85 percent of the income they generate locally, thus would no longer have any need for Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA).
Only 15 to 20 percent of the states’ income would go to the federal state, according to Alvarez.
At a recent meeting with new PDP members, Alvarez jokingly said Duterte is the only President foolish enough to put his own term in danger of being cut short by pushing federalism.
In the days to come leading to that SONA, when salient features of the draft charter are already made available for public perusal, the question that would be foremost in most minds would be, does it parallel the well-discussed idea of the PDP troika – Duterte-Alvarez-Pimentel – on what form federalism should take?
For example, Alvarez has said under a federal government, “poor regions can be combined with rich regions [to create a new state] so the latter can lift the former up.”
Alvarez cited as example the relatively impoverished CARAGA region which can be partnered with prosperous Davao as a state.
The partnering of regions to form new states, to Alvarez’s mind, would be to make the 18 federated states self-sustaining.
The first part of this series noted that “Duterte rides high on political will” while the second part had the prognosis of “better life ahead in Rody’s 2nd year.”