Alvarez: Federalism plan now constituent assembly

THE plan to shift toward a federal government through a constitutional convention has been revised with the "cheaper and faster" option of convening Congress into a constituent assembly, according to House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez.

"At first the President [Rodrigo R. Duterte] want[ed] (a) constitutional convention, but on the second thought, it involves huge sum of money. So last night after the NSC (National Security Council) meeting [with] the President, the Senate President, the House Speaker and [Budget] Secretary [Benjamin E.] Diokno, it was agreed that the Congress will simply form a constituent assembly to revise the Constitution," Mr. Alvarez said on Thursday, July 28, addressing the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) in Makati City.

Mr. Alvarez assured his audience of businessmen and other stakeholders that under Mr. Duterte's leadership, their concerns or "fears" about amending the Constitution through a constituent assembly "are gone."

He said his fellow legislators are "committed to do it for the country."

Mr. Alvarez cited the costs of calling a constitutional convention or "con-con" -- P7 billion to P8 billion, by his estimate. This is a "huge sum of money," he said, adding this could be allocated instead for salary increases for the military and the police.

"Secretary Diokno is having a hard time allocating that huge sum of money for the con-con. What is important here is as long as the provisions of the...revised Constitution are better and acceptable to the people, I don't think there will be a problem on that," Mr. Alvarez later said at the sidelines of this gathering.

Mr. Alvarez said Congress convening as a constituent assembly has up to a year to come up with a revised draft charter, after which a public information drive will be conducted.

"By mid-term elections, together with [the] local elections, we will submit it to the people for ratification. After the elections, we will have a transition period. [By] 2022, we will elect on the basis of the new constitution," Mr. Alvarez said.

Mr. Duterte's term as president ends that year.

Mr. Alvarez also said under the planned federal government, they "cannot allow poor regions to become independents states, they will not survive."

"The solution is mix them with rich regions," he said, adding that the country can be carved up into 11 to 12 states.

Each state could have different tax systems and different sets of laws, he said.

"Through federalism, by granting more and specific powers to the state governments, the red tape that leads all the way to Manila will be cut, thus reducing delays and uncertainties inimical to businesses," said Mr. Alvarez.

"The shift to federalism will address and eventually end historical injustices that have caused human sufferings and destruction of properties," said the House Speaker.

For his part, MAP President Perry L. Pe said a federal government would be "very healthy, very healthy on business," adding that MAP would support this.

Mr. Pe added that the best feature of federalism is the "devolution to empower the regions"

"It is really to empower all these areas and really to craft their own destiny as [Mr. Alvarez] says," he said.

He also said different tax systems among states would be "fantastic."

"He [Mr. Alvarez] says other region might give free taxation so we wouldn't know if there's a free port like Hong Kong. That would be helpful," Mr. Pe said.

Source: Business World Online