BAGUIO CITY — Representatives of youth groups on Friday appealed to senators not to rush federalism when the vast majority of Filipinos don’t understand its effect on their lives.
At the resumption of Senate regional consultative hearings here, Maria Meryl Isidro, of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP), also stressed the role of the Senate as an institution in the entire process of changing the Constitution.
“In the course of Charter change, we see [President] Duterte, the House of Representatives, the allies of the President who are so keen on rushing that they want to omit the Senate in the process. Dito natin nakikita na sa lahat ng proseso na ito, may nakakalimutang importante ang administrasyon: ang tao,” Isidro said.
“If we really want to maximize people’s participation, tutal para sa atin naman ito, bakit hindi natin sila [ang Senado] hayaang bumoto? This is essential and critical to our democracy,” she added.
In response, Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, who was also present in the hearing, denied that constitutional change is being rushed.
“We are not not rushing this. I think the chairman can testify or elaborate on this that the Senate is not rushing this. Yung original timetable ng chairman, ia-adjust pa natin. Kasi kailangan po talagang maintindihan ng taumbayan,” said Pimentel, who heads the ruling PDP-Laban, referring to Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, who heads the Senate committee on constitutional amendments conducting the hearings.
Pimentel cited high poverty incidence in Metro Manila, Marawi, and Lanao Del Sur to point out that Filipinos need to understand the need before the entire country can shift to federalism.
The party president of PDP-Laban, a staunch advocate of federalism, said: “Dapat naaalarma tayo, we should not allow this to happen in one country, the Philippines, napakahirap ng mga kapatid natin. Pag hindi tayo naalarma, we are not ready for federalism. Wala pa yung solidarity sa ating puso at sa ating isip.”
“Pag walang solidarity at wala pa sa ating mga puso ang konsepto ng solidarity that we are one nation, we are the brother or the sister of all Filipinos, ‘wag na muna tayo mag-pederalismo. Ang solidarity hindi po yan kayang ibatas,” Pimentel said.
Cordillerans also pointed to the need to consider indigenous people’s right to self-determination in the shift to a federal form of government.
Abigail Anongos of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, said: “Regional autonomy which should be based on indigenous peoples’ rights and human rights on the inalienable right of self-determination of indigenous peoples, the land, people and territory, for these are the fundamental pillars by which you can say that we have a practice of self-determination.”
In an interview after the hearing, Pimentel mentioned that the original timetable on changing the constitution before May 2019 is possible.
He said: “Ang dami ng kumikilos, the consultative commission will come up with their recommendations in April or May, this committee of Senator Pangilinan will come up with its committee report maybe in May so we still have half a year. .”
For his part, Pangilinan said the people must be involved in any initiative to change the Constitution.
“If you’re going to change the Constitution, we want to be directly involved. Instead of allowing Congress, the Senate and the House to do it, kung gagawin din lang ang Charter Change, dapat involved ang mamamayan. They want to participate, they want to know, they want to have a say,” Pangilinan said.
“Interesado sila, alam nilang kulang ang kaalaman nila, alam nilang may mga pinag-uusapan na may kinalaman sa buhay nila, pero gusto nilang makibahagi, gusto nilang involved,” he added.
Pangilinan said that democracy is at work in the hearings, pointing out that despite his differences with Pimentel, with both of them being presidents of different political parties, they are able to set aside their political differences.
“Si Senate President Koko Pimentel, presidente po ng Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas o PDP-Laban, ako po presidente po ng Liberal Party, ngunit nasa majority ang Senate President at ako po ay nasa minority sa Senate, at ako po ang chairman ng Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, patunay na maaari nating isantabi ang pulitika, maaari nating isantabi ang ating political differences for a higher cause. And this is what democracy is all about.”
“Doon natin nakikita na pag ang proseso ay malaya, participatory, transparent, at lahat pwedeng magsalita, binibigyan ng pagkakataon, kinikilala, mas marami tayong matututunan at mas magkakaroon ng tiwala rin sa proseso,” he added.
Aside from Pimentel, other senators who joined Pangilinan in the public hearing in Baguio City were Senators Bam Aquino, Nancy Binay, and Panfilo Lacson.