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Next time na lang? Koko admits federalism ‘difficult’ to pass by 2019

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By Xave Gregorio

With several lawmakers and Cabinet members expressing reservations towards changing the Constitution to shift to a federal system of government, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III admitted that it would be “difficult” to meet their target of shifting to federalism by 2019.

Asked in a radio interview Saturday if the bid for federalism would unlikely succeed by 2019, Pimentel said, “Mahihirapan.”

“Pero ako kasi attitude ko na lang best effort. Kasi mahirap naman .. kung hindi pa handa ‘yung taongbayan, kung kulang pa sa impormasyon, hindi pa naiintindihan. Ayoko naman silang bumoto ng yes nang hindi naman nila naiintindhan,” Pimentel said.

“Mayroon lang kaming working target na 2019 elections isasabay na ‘yung plebisito. Kapag hindi natin nakamit ‘yun, eh di next target, as long as na-approve na ‘yung new federal constitution,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier told reporters that economic managers’ rejection of federalism or the proposed new constitution drafted by President Rodrigo Duterte’s consultative committee (ConCom) are “additional nails on the coffin” on the bid to change the charter.

During a briefing by the Development Budget Coordination Committee at the Senate, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said he would not vote in favor of the ConCom’s proposed new constitution if it were to be put in a plebiscite now.

Dominguez has also said that federalism would be a “fiscal nightmare,” while Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said it would “wreak havoc” on the economy.

Another Cabinet member, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, said in a press briefing that the Philippines is “not yet” ready for federalism and that the ConCom draft remains “confusing.”

Despite this, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque and Presidential Peace Adviser Jesus Dureza said the Cabinet remains united in pushing for federalism.

While Pimentel, president of the ruling PDP-Laban which has long been advocating for a federal form of government, said apparent cracks in the Cabinet on federalism is “not good,” he also said Duterte’s Cabinet is only seeking for “more information.”

The senator has urged the ConCom to explain its “financial analysis or projection” of its proposed federal constitution in light of apprehension from economic managers.

Albeit delivering a gloomy outlook for federalism’s passage, Pimentel vowed to continue pushing for a federal form of government.

“Kung disipulo ka talaga ng pederalismo, dapat handa ka sa pangmatagalan nitong pinaglalaban natin. Struggle po ito, intergenerational struggle po ito,” he said.

Senator Panfilo Lacson earlier said the bid for Charter change is already dead and “awaiting cremation” in the Senate, as the upper chamber and the House have yet to agree on whether to vote jointly or separately should Congress be convened into a constituent assembly which would vote and propose amendments to the Constitution.

Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies have tried to break this stalemate by filing a resolution expressing that both houses of Congress would vote separately, but senators’ fears that their votes would be rendered irrelevant remain.