Duterte’s federalism agenda: Another of campaign vows off the table

July 30, 2019 - 11:41 AM
Congress at Duterte's Third SONA
President Rodrigo Duterte greets some members of the 17th Congress upon his arrival at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives Complex in Constitution Hills, Quezon City to deliver his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, 2018. (Presidential photo/King Rodriguez)

President Rodrigo Duterte left out the proposed shift to federalism, one of his main campaign promises, during his 4th State of the Nation Address last week and admitted that it could only be passed beyond his time.

Duterte perceived that it is not proper to include federalism in his all-important annual speech because it’s not yet finalized.

“It’s better left in conferences that are not allowed to be open to the public. Magulo eh (It would be chaotic). One provision draws a lot of complaints. A lot of pros and cons. You will get dizzy. So better, you just talk about it among yourselves and present it to the public once there is a package, it has been completed,” he said at a press conference after his SONA on July 22.

Duterte flip-flopped on pushing through with federalism this year despite heavily campaigning for it since assuming his post in 2016.

He believed that shifting to a federal government would help usher in development to far-flung areas of the country.

The draft federal charter went through various revisions from the one submitted by the hand-picked consultative committee to the version approved by the House of Representatives last December.

It was authored by then-House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and 21 other members of the House.

So far, Congress was able to pass on the third and final reading the Resolution of Both Houses 15, the proposed measure that seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution and create a federal republic government.

What it took to get it done

Duterte personally created the Con-Com to review the current Constitution and develop the proposal for the new structure of government.

The 22-member Consultative Committee composed of veteran lawyers and experts submitted the original draft of the federal constitution to Duterte last July 9, 2018.

The House committee on constitutional amendments, however, approved and recommended the adoption of a new one submitted by Arroyo called Resolution of Both Houses No. 15.

This was heavily criticized by the Con-Com and some Filipinos as the newer draft left out several key provisions of the first version such as safeguards against political dynasties, turncoatism and federated regions.

RBH 15 was also being questioned for removing the vice president in the line of succession, removing the term limits for senators and representatives and adding a sketchy Bill of Duties rather than a Bill of Rights.

Despite such issues, the House advanced the Arroyo draft to second reading on December 5 last year.

Then, two weeks later, the lower chamber passed the third and final reading of RBH 15 without much amendments to the former.

The only notable change in the latest draft was the restoration of the position of vice president.

The government structure that Arroyo endorsed to the plenary was a presidential-bicameral-federal system wherein the president and the vice president will be elected in tandem. Congress will continue to have two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives, in the draft.

The year to adopt the federal system of government is also the same, in 2022.

These changes were not considered improvements, former Con-com spokesperson Conrado “Ding” Generoso argued, describing the RBH 15 as “disgusting.”

The Senate, meanwhile, said it may not be able to discuss federalism matter on time.

Throwing the towel

Duterte's 2019 SONA entrance
President Rodrigo Duterte greets some members of Congress before delivering his 4th State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on July 22, 2019. (Presidential photo/King Rodriguez)

Following these unanswered problems with the measure, Duterte soon admitted that his plans of a federal state may not happen in three years’ time.

He then suggested that local officials should at least try to propose amendments to the current Constitution.

“If you do not want federalism, fine, but change the Constitution that would change this nation,” he said.