MALACAÑANG ON Thursday urged President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s economic managers who question the proposed shift to federalism to present their alternatives.
Also on Thursday, a member of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to Review the 1987 Constitution suggested that Mr. Duterte fire Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia if he still favors federalism, a leading theme of his presidential campaign in 2016.
“The President will have to task them,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said in a press briefing when asked if the economic managers will be sought for an alternative proposal.
“So, it is incumbent upon the alter egos to find ways and means now to make that happen. What they were objecting to is because they have unanswered questions on the existing proposals made by the Consultative Committee, so let’s find answers. But if there will be no answers, it is incumbent upon all the alter egos of the President to make what he wants to happen a reality,” Mr. Roque said.
Testifying at the Senate on Wednesday, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia became candid in expressing their concerns about the possible cost of a shift toward federalism.
Mr. Roque said there are “differences of opinion” on federalism among the President’s Cabinet members.
“My point of view is that there doesn’t have to be a deficit because there shouldn’t be additional budget required for federalism. It’s a matter of working within a given budget and transferring funds from one pocket to another. We’re talking about devolving services to regional governments, and we’re talking about creating new bureaucracies under the regional governments; but we’re also talking about reducing the current national bureaucracy. So my view is, it does not have to result in a bloated budget which may result in a bigger deficit, which will result in high interest rates….” he said.
He also said, “Well, let’s just say that Secretary Dominguez, as you know, was one of (Mr. Duterte’s) closest supporters during the campaign. He knows that the President ran on a platform, among others, based on a charter change towards federalism. He supports federalism. Let’s fine-tune the means and ways of moving from a unicameral to a federal form of government.”
He noted as well that the Palace “respects” the views of the Mssrs. Pernia and Dominguez, but added he would “like to see if there are alternatives, because federalism remains a priority of the President and we need to address obviously even the financial aspects of the constitutional change towards federalism.”
For his part, ConCom member and dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law Ranhilio Aquino said in a Facebook post: “Let’s stop fooling ourselves. If Dominguez and Pernia, in their official capacities, speak loudly against Federalism, then the question should be asked in all earnestness whether the President is for it or not.”
He added: “The way things are going, Dominguez and Pernia may merely be paving the way for a subsequent Presidential announcement that ‘I have been advised by my economists that federalism is as bad for our national health as smoking is to a person.’”
“Freedom of expression does not apply to Cabinet officials in respect to policy.”
“Enough of double-talk. If the President is now cool to federalism let him give the order to abandon the federalist ship. Then all of us fools who wrote the draft and defended it with all our might will know that we have been taken for a ride — for a very expensive ride — but we shall at least have the chance to abandon ship before it is scuttled!”
And for his part, Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said it is possible that the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes, which he heads, will advise against charter change.
“Posible ‘yun, lalo’t napakalaki ng statement at napakabigat nung nabanggit nung ating mga economic managers kahapon,” the opposition senator said. (That’s possible, especially because of the big words by our economic managers Thursday, August 9, [at the Senate].)
“Hindi na kami sa oposisyon ‘yan. Sila na ang gumagamit nung terminong ‘bangungot,’ ‘impiyerno,’ ‘kalituhan,’ eh pagka ganyan ang bitiw na salita, eh ba’t natin mamadaliin ito?” Mr. Pangilinan added. (That’s no longer coming from us in the opposition. They were using words like “nightmare,” “hell,” “confusion.” If they’re dropping words like that, why should we rush this?)
Nevertheless, Mr. Pangilinan said “We’re looking at maybe October” for the committee to submit its report on charter change.
“Well, actually, mayroong working draft para hindi naman tayo naaantala pero hindi pa nafa-finalize ‘yan,” he also said. (There’s a working draft so we won’t be delayed but this has not yet been finalized.)