SENATORS, members of the Consultative Committee, and even officials of the executive branch criticized on Monday a video pitch on federalism by Communications Assistant Secretary Esther Margaux J. Uson that made rounds in social media over the weekend.
In a statement, Senator Grace S. Poe-Llamanzares said the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) must justify its budget increase in the 2019 proposed national budget following the incident. This while several agencies face deep cuts in their appropriations amid the soaring food prices and hunger incidence, she pointed out.
“The PCOO must justify its budget increase. What are the deliverables? Are memes and blogs also hit by inflationary spikes? Is the cost of feeding the nation with government information adversely affected by TRAIN (Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion), too? Will the PCOO be hiring campaigners to explain federalism,” she said.
“The obliterated amount from some agencies will hit hard the people, who badly need social services. What will sustain them are education, affordable food, health services and social assistance, not gaffes and reckless communication campaigns,” she added.
The PCOO asked for a P1.41 billion budget in 2019, higher than its 2018 budget of P1.38 billion.
Meanwhile, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph G. Recto said in a text message to reporters, “She’s the perfect endorser for federalism. She symbolizes those in favor of federalism.”
Senator Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III, a federalism advocate, told reporters that while the concept was difficult to understand, it should not be connected with private body parts. He also urged Ms. Uson not to involve herself with the information campaign any longer.
“The President said he had hired the best and the brightest people so I’m sure we can get another face that will help with the federalism advocacy,” he said.
For his part, Senior Technical and Media Officer Conrado I. Generoso of the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) to Review the 1987 Constitution said in part in his statement, “As Assistant Secretary Uson has stated before, she is not a designated spokesperson for federalism. There has never been any idea to make her a spokesperson.”
“It is certainly not the way to present federalism. It is not a part of the information campaign which is still being crafted, and the mechanics of which are still being finalized,” Mr. Generoso also said regarding Ms. Uson’s video.
“It would mean talking about how federalism can help create jobs and livelihood opportunities, how government services such as health and education could be made closer to the people—and it would talk about the lives of ordinary folks in the provinces,” he added.
Meanwhile at the House of Representatives, the chairperson of the committee on constitutional amendments said his panel will adopt the Con-Com’s draft federal constitution as its “working draft.”
“We will be consolidating the two drafts, but we are using the Puno draft as the working draft,” committee chair and Leyte Representative Vicente S.E. Veloso told reporters in a phone interview Monday.
He also said two months would be sufficient time to assess if the proposed federal constitution would be acceptable to both chambers of Congress.
“Two months will be enough for us to see kung talagang (if the draft charter is really) acceptable ito sa (for) both houses,” Mr. Veloso said.
But for his part, House Majority Leader Rolando G. Andaya Jr. said “it depends kung anong proposal ng (which proposal of the) Consultative Committee, but I don’t think mangyayari ‘yun (but I don’t think that will happen).”
The panel is scheduled to hold on Tuesday its initial deliberation on the congressional and ConCom draft federal charters.
The Concurrent Resolution convening Congress into a constituent assembly, previously filed in the chamber, will also be tackled for withdrawal by the Committee on Rules to make way for the filing of a new resolution, accommodating the Senate’s push for separate voting.
For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. said on Monday, “The roadshow for federalism will be commenced this month of August, kasama po iyong mga materyales na ginawa po ng (and it will include the materials being prepared by the) DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) in coordination with academics, iyong mga miyembro rin ng (and the members of the) Consultative Committee.” — Camille A. Aguinaldo, with Charmaine A. Tadalan and Arjay L. Balinbin