DILG wants plebiscite for federal charter beyond 2019 elections

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 11) — The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) prefers a plebiscite for a federal constitution would be held after the mid-term elections in May 2019.

DILG Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said the goal to have Filipinos vote for a new constitution early next year might be "overly optimistic."

"If we were asked what would be our recommendation, [it] would be to hold a standalone plebiscite — not [one] that coincides with the 2019 elections," Malaya told CNN Philippines' The Source. "We proceed with the 2019 elections so as to dispel any allegations that this is all for extension purposes."

This standalone plebiscite, Malaya suggested, could be held in the latter part of 2019 or in 2020.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez wants the 2019 elections moved to 2022, citing a packed schedule. But, critics fear that it would only service lawmakers who will stay in power longer.

The Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked to review the 1987 Constitution floated the target date for a plebiscite by early 2019, after President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his desire to retire by next year, three years short of his prescribed term.

This means a new president and a vice president may be elected by May 2019, as Duterte is only willing to serve in transition capacity until 2022.

But for Malaya, who is also the federalism campaign chief, that set-up is a bit vague. He noted that he has under a year to inform the public of the new government system with a "limited budget" of P100 million.

"I don't know if the Filipino people will agree to cutting short the President's term and electing a new set of leaders simply for a transition," he said.

The roadshows organized by DILG have been criticized as an early senatorial campaign after it invited Special Assistant to the President Bong Go as a main speaker. Presidential Political Adviser Francis Tolentino represented Go in a roadshow earlier this month in Bicol. Go and Tolentino have been shortlisted in ruling party PDP-Laban's senatorial slate.

Federalism, a campaign promise of Duterte, is a form of government that provides more autonomy to regional government units. Advocates say this will better allow regions to govern themselves, but critics fear this could empower political dynasties and cause economic instability for regions not prepared for fiscal independence.