Duterte leaves out charter change, federalism in SONA 2019

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The Batasang Pambansa, where President President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his State of the Nation Address (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 22) — President Rodrigo Duterte made no mention of either charter change or federalism during his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA). Does this mean he has given up on his campaign promise?

Speaking to reporters shortly after delivering his speech for more than an hour and a half, Duterte said it was not the proper time to discuss the constitutional change he had earlier pushed for.

“It's better left in conferences that are not allowed to be open to the public kasi pag isang provision to one another magulo e,” the President said. He added that the measure will have “a lot of pros and cons,” but did not elaborate.

A federal form of government would require a “strong President,” Duterte said, adding that it might not be passed on his watch.

“Until such time that we have perfected it, there has to be strong President with the same powers now,” Duterte said. “I'm out of it because I think it will be passed beyond my time [as President],” he added.

The shift to federalism was among the campaign promises Duterte made in the 2016 presidential election. In the past, he has repeatedly advocated that it would pave the way for a more equitable distribution of wealth and political power among the regions and bring lasting peace in Mindanao.

But in a speech in June, Duterte for the first time admitted federalism may not pass on his watch because Filipinos do not support it. He has since asked the Congress to change the charter now, warning of a possible coup if it fails to do so.

It is not clear what changes in the charter are being proposed to specifically solve corruption, drugs, terrorism and other problems supposedly raised by the military.

Meanwhile, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Federalism and Constitutional Reform and the President's PDP-Laban party said they will intensify their information campaigns so Filipinos can better understand federalism. According to the Social Weather Stations, only one in four Filipinos is aware of federalism.

In December 2018, the House of Representatives approved Resolution of Both Houses No. 15, which proposed a federal constitution. The House's version is controversial for removing the term limits of the members of Congress and dropping the anti-political dynasty provisions in the draft endorsed by the Consultative Committee, the body tasked by Duterte to review and propose changes to the Constitution. Even Malacañang called on lawmakers to reconsider the measure, saying it could be rejected by the people.

No counterpart measure was ever filed in the Senate as lawmakers rejected charter change for various reasons.