Officials vow to boost federalism push as Duterte changes tune

By Eimor Santos, CNN Philippines

Some government officials are not giving up on a shift to federalism despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s seeming concession it would not happen under his watch.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Federalism and Constitutional Reform, led by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, will conduct an “intensified information campaign” so Filipinos can learn more about federalism. This was confirmed by Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya in a statement on Wednesday.

He added that the task force is set to complete its review of the 1987 Constitution and present its findings to the President soon.

“There is still three years remaining to get this done so there is time to realize his (Duterte’s) federalism vision,” Malaya said. Duterte created the task force in November 2018 to develop and implement strategies to raise awareness on federalism and constitutional reform.

In a speech on Tuesday, Duterte acknowleged that many Filipinos still do not support his proposed shift to a federal form of government, but insisted on charter change.

“If you don’t want federalism, fine. But change the Constitution that would really change this nation,” Duterte said. This was the first time the President admitted that his campaign promise of shifting to a federal form off government may not be fulfilled.

Malaya said the President “was just being realistic” that a stronger information campaign is needed to get Filipinos to approve of federalism, adding that he does not think Duterte is “abandoning” the advocacy. Malacañang has not issued a statement on Duterte’s controversial remark.

The shift to federalism was among the promises Duterte made during his 2016 presidential campaign. He believes it would pave the way for a more equitable distribution of wealth and political power throughout the regions and bring lasting peace in Mindanao.

According to the Social Weather Stations, only one in four Filipinos are aware of federalism.

Senator Koko Pimentel in a statement said the ruling PDP-Laban party will also continue to educate Filipinos about federalism and its benefits.

“PDP-Laban advocates for consti change primarily because of our federalism position. But the party is also open to parliamentary form of government,” Pimentel said in a statement. The Philippines has a presidential form of government.

In December 2018, the House of Representatives approved Resolution of Both Houses No. 15, or its proposed federal constitution. The House’s version is controversial for removing the term limits of the members of Congress and dropping the anti-political dynasty provisions in the draft endorsed by the Consultative Committee, the body tasked by Duterte to review and propose changes to the Constitution. Even Malacañang called on lawmakers to reconsider the measure, saying it could be rejected by the people.

No counterpart measure was ever filed in the Senate, where Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon declared federalism “dead on arrival,” a position echoed by other lawmakers. Pimentel told CNN Philippines in May that federalism is still unlikely to pass in the next Senate, even if it is dominated by Duterte’s allies.

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