On the beat
THIS 2018, the theme of those who have been pushing the revision of the Constitution and shift to a federal system of government is “now or never.”
The schedule is tight and this is the reason why lawmakers are planning to submit all the proposed amendments to the Constitution to a plebiscite simultaneous with the holding of barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections on May 14, 2018 to save time and resources.
Or move again for another postponement of barangay and SK polls to a later date this year because the May timetable is not realistic.
Majority of lawmakers must do something immediately because they will not get another better chance to push federalism with the filing this October of certificates of candidacy (CoC) for the 2019 midterm poll.
At the earliest, Congress -- the House of Representatives and the Senate -- should have already agreed and readied the “clean copy” of the proposed amendments to the Constitution before the second week of March this year or 60 days before the May 14.
This is because of a constitutional provision that provides any amendment to or revision of the Constitution shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the approval of such amendment or revision.
But the Senate cannot be ignored in convening Congress into a constituent assembly (Con-Ass) with its +56 net satisfaction rating based on the last quarter Social Weather Survey (SWS) in 2017. In the same survey, the House of Representatives got +43.
Meaning, pushing a federalism through Con-Ass cannot be done without the Senate concurrence. Especially with the possibility of pushing a unicameral form of government that will abolish the Senate.
Reports about no-election (no-el), term extension, and unlimited term for elected public officials were not helping the noble intention of Charter change (Cha-cha) because this should be done without the burden of suspicion on promoting vested interests.
Still, the burden for sitting legislators is to prove that they could rise above personal ambitions.
Leaders of the House of Representatives should sit with the senators and work hard for them to convene both houses of Congress into Con-Ass. That is the big challenge now.
It seems that the House of Representatives wants that Con-Ass voting be done separately with the Senate, but the counting is jointly like the manner of the voting when Congress extended twice the martial law and suspension of writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao until the end of the year as requested by President Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte.
Senators fear that the House of Representatives would push Con-Ass without their approval.
With this, the Senate is expected to be very careful not to fall into the trap of going into Con-Ass without an assurance that the manner of voting will not be similar to martial law extension.
Senators would surely stand united against moves for Congress to vote jointly on any amendments to the Constitution.
Despite these things, the Senate should prepare for the worst because the House of Representatives can still bank on President Duterte’s “excellent” trust rating in the latest SWS 2017 Fourth Quarter Survey where he got +75 or a 15-point increase from the +60 or “very good” trust rating that he garnered last September survey.
President Duterte’s unorthodox leadership and game-changing policies still manage him to get net high trust and approval ratings.
These are the best weapons of federalism proponents to push their advocacy without majority of the people protesting or opposing their strategy.
They should engage the President to the intensified information Cha-cha campaign because of his excellent popularity.
Remember that President Duterte was able to command a strong support from Congress in pushing for the martial extension in Mindanao without majority of the people going to the streets to protest.
The victory of federalism can be assured also if the Supreme Court (SC) decides not to interfere on possible legal question until after the favorable results of the plebiscite on Cha-cha.
This Monday, January 15 will be an exciting day because leaders and members of the House of Representatives and the Senate are expected to collide on Cha-cha as senators fight the possible abolition of the Upper House.
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Senator Sonny Angara, chairman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, was right to call on the government to use the revenues that will be generated from the new tax reform law on programs that will directly benefit ordinary Filipinos, specifically the improvement of public transportation system in the country.
With the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) transporting an average of 463,000 people daily and reports that its system broke down more than 500 times in 2017, Angara argued that the TRAIN Law should fix our trains.
Under Republic Act 10963 or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, Angara explained that 70% of the yearly incremental revenues generated will be allocated to the Build, Build, Build Program and other infrastructure programs that seek to address congestion through better mass transport and new road networks.
Meanwhile, Angara said part of the 70% will also go to projects that seek to enhance military infrastructure, sports facilities in public schools, and potable drinking water supply in all public places.
The other 30% of generated revenues from TRAIN law will be allocated to social mitigating measures and investments in education, health, targeted nutrition, and anti-hunger programs, social protection, employment, and housing that prioritize and directly benefit both the poor and near-poor households.