HOUSE Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the government would withhold funding for provinces that do not support the administration, even as he and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel pushed for a federal system where such centralized control would not be possible.
“Provinces that don’t support us will get zero budget,” Alvarez said in Filipino.
“If you don’t want to join, that’s okay. I’ll respect your right. But you also have to respect my right to give you a zero budget,” he said in a speech in Iloilo Thursday.
Alvarez urged new PDP-Laban members to support the party’s push for federalism, saying the current centralized system has left the provinces behind.
“They don’t want to change the system because they want to control the provinces,” Alvarez said. “What the leaders in Manila want is for them to be the one to say whether we progress or not.”
He said centralized governance restricted the flow of funding to the countryside—even as he threatened to do just that to uncooperative provinces.
He said in a federal system, the provinces would retain what they earned and merely contribute to the national government.
Alvarez urged the PDP-Laban members to help President Rodrigo Duterte amend the Constitution to enable a shift to a federal system of government.
Pimentel, meanwhile, said all candidates running under the PDP-Laban banner must support federalism.
“The party will have to field candidates who believe in and are advocates of federalism. All candidates from senators to councilors,” Pimentel said in a text message to reporters.
He said believing in their party’s federalism advocacy is a “basic requirement for party membership.”
Both Alvarez and Pimentel, top officials of the PDP-Laban, are pushing for federalism but disagree on how this will be done.
Alvarez insists that the House of Representatives, with 292 members, and the Senate will vote as one, which would marginalize the vote of 24 senators.
Pimentel and his colleagues in the Senate believe the House and Senate should vote separately.
Alvarez earlier said that the House would like to finish its work on the draft of the proposed federal constitution so it could be submitted for ratification through a plebiscite simultaneous with the May 2018 barangay elections.
But Alvarez said that was not a hard-and-fast deadline.
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, meanwhile, proposed a summit between leaders of both chambers, after senators agreed to boycott the House-initiated constituent assembly.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, said each chamber should conduct public hearings separately and firm up their respective positions on four issues: the need to amend the Constitution; which provisions to amend; what mode to take; and if voting should be done jointly or separately.
“Until these issues are settled, I do not see the point of a summit,” Drilon said.
He added that before the public gets behind federalism, a more detailed plan must be in place that will take into account elections, term limits, and checks and balances.
Senator Francis Pangilinan warned the House of Representatives that pushing an illegal form of Charter change would anger not just the senators but the public.
Earlier, the House approved Resolution No. 9, which seeks to convene Congress into a constituent assembly that will introduce changes to the Constitution. Alvarez has said that the House is ready to go forward even without the participation of the senators.
Pimentel said the Senate will continue with its own committee hearings on Charter change.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Constitution cannot be amended by violating it. He noted that the 3/4th voting formula, to be exercised by one chamber alone, is wrong because the Constitution establishes a bicameral legislature.
Both Senators Joel Villanueva and Grace Poe cautioned that federalism was not a magic pill that would solve the country’s problems.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said the insistence of Alvarez on joint voting only confirms his suspicion that the House of Representatives wants to render the Senate’s vote irrelevant.
“It also justifies my suggestion to expel any member of the Senate who will go astray and betray the institution [to which] he belongs,” Lacson said.