HOUSE SPEAKER Pantaleon D. Alvarez on Wednesday, Jan. 3, raised the possibility of the 2019 midterm elections giving way to the shift toward a federal form of government if this is approved in a plebiscite, as planned this year.

In an interview with journalist Karen Davila of ANC, Mr. Alvarez said convening Congress into a constituent assembly (along with) revising the Constitution is “number one” in this year’s legislative agenda.

“Para sa akin (For me), we can convene by January, puwede nating i-submit iyan for (we can submit this to a) referendum (in the) barangay elections (of) May,” Mr. Alvarez said.

Asked about the likelihood of a no-election scenario in the midterm, the Speaker said “I have to be frank about it….Anything is possible. You know why? Let’s be practical. Kapag nag-shift ka (If you shift) into a different form of government,…you need a transition government.”

He added: “Mag-eleksyon tayo sa 2019 (Let’s have elections in 2019). That’s not a problem. Pero dapat tingnan natin dito na ano ba ang praktikal, ano ba ang objective dito (But we have to see what’s practical, what’s the objective)?”

“Magshi-shift ka into a federal form of government, magbabago yung istraktura ng gobyerno (If you shift into a federal form of government, the structure of government will change)….”

The Speaker said, when asked, there were ways (“may mga paraan”) to convince the Senate into supporting this agenda, noting that this is a “priority of this administration” and “the advocacy of (the ruling) PDP(-Laban) is federalism. (So) I don’t see any reason why (the) Senate President will not be working on it also.”

“This is a question of patriotism,” Mr. Alvarez also said.

He also took the position that Congress as convened into a constituent assembly will vote jointly on the matter.

Senate President Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III, when sought for comment, told reporters: “That is not an ‘either-or’ situation. We can shift to federalism and allow all scheduled elections under the existing (Constitution) to go on and be held. What is important are the transitory provisions which will govern the terms and duties of those elected in the last election under the 1987 Constitution.”

“And before we can operate under a new constitution, the provisions of the existing constitution must be followed. Hence, if there are scheduled elections under the existing constitution, then this must be followed,” the Senate leader added.

Asked about the possibility of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s term being extended under federalism, Mr. Pimentel said: “Depends on the transitory provisions. And depends too 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, number one, if really necessary, and two, if he is amenable to it, and three, since that extension will be part of the new constitution, the new constitution is approved by the people themselves.”

For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Harry L. Roque, Jr. said when sought for comment: “(T)he President always looks to the Constitution as his guiding document. The Constitution sets the date for the next elections in 2019. So unless the Constitution is amended ahead of the 2019 elections, it will have to push through.”

He added: “I can categorically state that PRRD does not want that (term extension). He wants to cut short his term rather than lengthen it.”

For his part, opposition Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said in a statement: “After witnessing the congressional hearings on extrajudicial killings, on Senator De Lima’s alleged connection with drug syndicates, on the P6.4-billion BoC shabu smuggling scandal allegedly involving the Davao group, the impeachment of Chief Justice Sereno, the approval of the 1-year extension of martial law in Mindanao, the slashing of the CHR budget to P1,000, will you trust Congress with charter change?”

Akbayan Representative Tomasito S. Villarin said in part: “The cat is out of the bag. It reveals the true intentions of the Duterte administration to perpetuate themselves in power. It speaks volume of how they have arrogated power unto themselves and instilled fear upon the people who oppose their position.”

Kabataan Party-list Representative Sarah Jane I. Elago in her statement said: “Setting aside Barangay and SK elections for the sake of giving way to the shift to federalism, along with the proposals of term extension, only allows the current administration to appoint interim officers who are subservient to its anti-people policies. The youth has vehemently opposed the subsequent election postponements as a form of depriving the people of their inherent and democratic right to choose their leaders. — with M.N.R. dela Cruz