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Protect democracy, keep Duterte out of federal gov’t

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By Xave Gregorio

“Ban Duterte, defend democracy.”

This was what University of the Philippines political science assistant professor Gene Lacza Pilapil said of the proposed shift to a federal form of government, daring proponents of changing the Constitution include in their proposed amendments banning President Rodrigo Duterte from remaining in power once a federal government is established.

“Write down a provision banning the incumbent president to allay the valid fears of many Filipinos that this shift to federalism is part of the constitutionally mandated term limit under the 1987 Constitution,” Pilapil said in his position paper which he read Tuesday (March 13) at the Senate hearing on proposals to amend the Constitution.

He challenged ruling party PDP-Laban, the House of Representatives and the Duterte’s constitutional commission to insert a provision ensuring that the President would not go beyond his term, set to end at noon of June 30, 2022.

Pilapil is not buying Duterte’s promise that he would not go beyond his constitutionally mandated six-year term as it is “as good as his campaign promise to ride a jet ski to the Spratlys.” The President is yet to ride a jet ski to the islands awarded to the Philippines in an arbitral ruling, but the Department of Foreign Affairs insists is disputed.

“To make sure that in 2022 he does not tease the country for believing in him in 2018 that he will step down once his term ends under the 1987 Constitution and not run again for president, institutionalize his promise to step down by constitutionally barring him to run in your proposed federal constitutions,” Pilapil said.

He said strongmen like Duterte had historically relied on changing the constitution to “skirt term limits of their democracies,” citing Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and former President Ferdinand Marcos, who failed to abolish presidential term limits but declared martial law to cling to power.

However, PDP-Laban federalism research chief Jonathan Malaya assured in a Senate hearing last month that their proposed federal constitution would not allow Duterte to extend his term, saying critics of the shift to federalism are seeing nonexistent “monsters.”

But the proposed new constitution being deliberate upon by the lower house does not require Duterte to step down until the second Monday of 2022.

According to a briefer provided to House reporters by the constitutional amendments committee, Duterte will be exercising “all powers and functions of the head of state and head of government under this Federal Constitution until the election of the next President and Prime Minister in May 2022,” which means he would be both president and prime minister.

This means that if that version of the proposed new constitution passes, Duterte will exercise all his existing powers, in addition with oversight powers over the executive, legislature and judiciary, prepare the program of government, prepare the annual budget, execute laws, orders and decisions of the Federal Supreme Court, and enter into contracts, including loans, on behalf of the government.

“[This] gives the incumbent president mind-boggling powers such that the president becomes a one-man hyper executive-legislative package,” Pilapil said. “The powers of the president are almost revolutionary.”