Proposed charter for federal PH weakens Senate, eyes prime minister

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 9) — Senate is retained but stripped of certain legislative powers in the proposed draft constitution for a federal form of government.

CNN Philippines obtained a copy of ruling party PDP-Laban's proposed Constitution for a Federal Republic, and it showed provisions for a bicameral legislature or two lawmaking bodies – the Federal Assembly and the Senate.

Under this proposal, however, the Senate cannot initiate laws but only concur or reject bills that are created by the Federal Assembly.

"The Federal Assembly shall be vested with primary legislative power. Every bill shall be initiated and passed by the Federal Assembly," according to Article 6, Section 27 of the draft constitution.

In the current setup, both the Senate and the House of Representatives can file bills which have to be agreed upon by the two chambers before they can be signed or vetoed by the President.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a member of PDP-Laban, earlier said he believes a unicameral legislature is a better option to speed up the country's lawmaking process.

This caught the ire of some senators including Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon who said on Monday Alvarez was out to discredit and eventually abolish the Senate. He said this would pave the way for railroading laws.

Opposition lawmakers called out the majority after supposedly passing bills in plenary with haste, including the decision to extend martial law in Mindanao and the tax reform law, among others.

In the proposal, the PDP-Laban wants a parliament composed of 400 elected members of the Federal Assembly and three elected senators to represent each region.

Members of the Parliament shall have a maximum of two, five-year terms.

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Instead of the powerful Commission on Appointments, the Senate will confirm or reject appointments made by the President or the Prime Minister, the proposed constitution states.

The "PDP-Laban Model of PH Federalism," it said in its executive summary, was based on insights from President Rodrigo Duterte himself as well as former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr., a long-time advocate of federalism.

Prime Minister

Despite the Palace earlier stating Duterte's qualms on appointing a Prime Minister, PDP-Laban's draft constitution proposes a "semi-presidential system," where a Prime Minister is appointed by the President.

Related: Duterte bucks prime minister not elected by direct vote - spokesperson

"The executive power shall be exercised by the Prime Minister with the assistance of the Cabinet except where the President shall exercise primary executive powers involving foreign affairs and national defense," says Article 7, Section 22 of the draft constitution.

The Prime Minister shall be a member of the ruling party of the Federal Assembly and is tasked with determining national policy guidelines, appointing members of the Cabinet, and preparing the government budget proposal.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday told CNN Philippines President Duterte was not inclined toward having a prime minister in his proposed federal government.

During his first State of the Nation Address in July 2016 however, Duterte said he would like a federal form of government like that of France, which has both President and Prime Minister.

What is federalism?

Duterte has been pushing for a decentralized government under a federal system. He believes this form of government will finally bring peace to the conflict-stricken Mindanao. 

Under the proposal, regional governments have more autonomy and do not need to go through the national government for approval of funds.

The PDP-Laban's proposal states the creation of 11 regional governments, which will have legislative powers over basic services such as social welfare and development, tourism, regional development planning, and franchises, among others.

Critics have also questioned the economic stability of federalism, saying some regions are not yet fully capable of financially supporting themselves.

Under the draft proposal, regional governments would have control over 60 percent of its revenue, unlike in the current setup where 83 percent of revenue is controlled by the national government and only 17 percent is allocated to local governments.

Duterte's allies in Congress are proposing a constitutional assembly shortly after both houses resume session on January 15. The assembly will introduce changes in the Constitution to give way to a federal form of government - a major platform of the Duterte administration.

Following this timeline, Filipinos can vote for or against federalism in a plebiscite simultaneous with the May 8 barangay elections, Alvarez said in a January 3 press release.

CNN Philippines' Regine Cabato contributed to this report.