Opposition sees Duterte’s term extension behind push for federal system of gov’t

(L-R) Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes and Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin (Photos: www.youtube.com / www. cbcpnews.com / www.newsbyte.ph)

By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent

For the opposition, President Duterte’s term extension is the hidden agenda in the proposed shift from presidential to federal system of government.

Congress is now rushing a draft constitution to be in the ballot in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in May this year.

Senate Majority Leader Franklin Drilon, chairman of the opposition Liberal Party, vowed that his fellow minority senators will stop any move to extend Duterte’s term.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Aleano said the developments are similar to what Marcos did when he had a new Constitution extend his term of office.

“We would see a repeat of Marcos, as we are seeing many similarities already.

Duterte is certainly reading Marcos’ playbook,” Alejano said, adding that Duterte would prolong his stay in office through the transitory provisions of a federal charter.

He pointed out that one version Duterte’s congressmen-allies are considering would give him legislative powers during the transition to the envisioned federal system. “However, the transition period could last for years as what Marcos did in the 1973 Constitution’s transitory provisions,” Alejano said.

Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin echoed the same view, noting that the charter change plan of administration allies “hews closely to how the dictator Marcos tinkered with our Constitution to pave the way for a constitutional authoritarian order.”

“After declaring martial law, Marcos had a plebiscite asking people to support his new constitution by a ‘mere raising of hands.’ What followed was the darkest years in our history,” Villarin said.

Previously, Senate President Aquilino ‘Koko’ Pimentel III said that it is possible for the President to have his term extended during the transitory period of our government to Federalism. Pimentel explained Duterte’s term extension is based on the transitory provisions, and, if the new constitution is approved by 2019, the next three years will be considered “transitory period.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the campaign is also getting a boost from the so-called social media influencers of the administration “who have been dishing out fake news to serve the administration’s interest.”

“It is a classic feature of an authoritarian regime. The government is keen on controlling public opinion, knowing that it is ultimately the basis of its power and legitimacy,” Hontiveros pointed out.

She recalled that the administration also raised the issue of Duterte’s threats to set up a revolutionary government, apparently to check the sentiment of the public and the military on the issue. “Fortunately, the proposal was shelved in the meantime because it failed to shore up support from the public and sway the military,” Hontiveros said.

Some Catholic prelates like Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes expressed concerns over Duterte’s and other officials’ prolonged stay in power.

“Extension of the term of any elected official must never be allowed. This is a great violation of the Constitution of our Republic. Indeed the shortening of the term of office may be allowed. Extension of the term smacks of an imminent dictatorship, which happened during the presidency of Marcos,” Bastes said.

The House of Representatives is likely to transmit to the Senate a draft resolution paving the way for the shift to federalism in February, said Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments. “We started it at the plenary last December 13. I think it will end in January. So by February, it can be transmitted to the senators for their concurrence,” Mercado said in a radio interview.

House leaders led by Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he is hopeful that Congress will convene this month for a constituent assembly and submit a referendum for a plebiscite along with the barangay elections in May.

Alvarez then floated the no-election scenario next year, saying cancellation of the 2019 mid-term elections is possible if the shift to federalism would be approved since the government would be in transition.