Tuesday, April 29, 2008

16 senators now back Pimentel's shift to federalism

Four more senators expressed support for Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr.'s resolution to convene Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution to adopt a federal system of government.

Pimentel said this brings to 16 the number of senators supporting Senate Resolution No. 10.

The four news supporters of Pimentel’s proposal are Senators Juan Miguel Zubiri, Loren Legarda, Manuel "Lito" Lapid, and Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

They joined Senators Edgardo Angara, Rodolfo Biazon, Pia Cayetano, Juan Ponce Enrile, Francis Escudero, Jose "Jinggoy" Estrada, Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Francis Pangilinan, Ramon Revilla Jr., and Manuel Villar, who had signed Pimentel’s resolution earlier.

Pangilinan said his only two reservations are that the system be adopted after 2010, when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is out of power, and that a constitutional convention instead of a constituent assembly be authorized to draft the Charter changes.

Under a federal form of government, Pimentel said, senators will be elected by federal states and not at large nationwide. Members of the House of Representatives will continue to be elected by legislative districts, he added.

The resolution calls for the election of six senators in each of the 11 component federal states that are envisioned to be created. Nine other senators will be elected to represent the Filipinos overseas. This will expand the membership of the Senate from the current 24 members to 75.

On the other hand, the members of the House of Representatives will be elected by district but limited to a maximum of 350.

The resolution provides that the senators will serve for a term of six years and congressmen, three years. The senators will be limited to two terms and congressmen, four terms.

Pimentel said his proposed mode of electing senators will considerably lessen the cost of elections and keep election victors from resorting to corruption to recover campaign expenses and pay off poll-related debts.

By electing senators by federal states, Pimentel said the chronic problem of lack of representation or under-representation of certain regions of the country will be effectively solved.

"This will remove a major cause of social discontent and national disunity. With this scheme, no federal state will complain that they have no voice in the Senate," the senator from Mindanao said.

With a majority of senators signing his resolution, Pimentel said he is confident that the Senate will start deliberations on the proposed federal system as soon as possible.

But Pimentel's hope to start deliberations on his proposal were quickly dashed when the chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, Senator Richard Gordon, declared on Monday that Charter change is not on his list of priorities.

Gordon said he wanted to concentrate on implementing automated elections in the August 11 Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao elections and other electoral reforms in time for the 2010 presidential elections.

The shift to federalism through a constituent assembly also has yet to gain ground in the House of Representatives although Pimentel claims Speaker Prospero Nograles, who is also from Mindanao, declared support for the federalism proposal.

He added that the former speaker, Pangasinan Representative Jose de Venecia, Jr. who failed in his bid in 2007 to amend the Charter to shift to a parliamentary and unicameral form of government, promised to file a counterpart resolution.

Previously, the Senate strongly opposed De Venecia's campaign for Charter change through people's initiative, which was also supported by MalacaƱang, since De Venecia's proposal would abolish the Senate.

Pimentel said he was in favor of Charter Change only as a means to pave the way for a federal system of government which he said would "correct the over-concentration of powers" in the national government.

"Apparently, there is some misconception that the adoption of a federal system will mean the phase-out of the presidential form of government and this is causing apprehensions in a lot of people, especially those who intend to run for top government positions in the 2010 elections," the senator said.

"But this is farthest from truth because the presidential set-up will be retained even if we shift to a federal system," he added. by Dona Pazzibugan, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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