Palace welcomes discourse on federalism bid

PRESIDENTIAL spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. on Friday, August 10 said that the different perspectives concerning the shift to a federal government were part of the “continuing discourse” on the issue.

“We view the differences of opinion on federalism as part of the continuing discourse, even among members of the president’s official family, which the chief executive encourages to thresh out possible contentious issues,” Roque said.

In a report from Inquirer, Roque said that the president encourages the “inclusive participation” of different groups and sectors to further promote awareness in the said shift of government.

This comes after officials like Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III warned on Friday that the draft federal constitution would lead to wider budget deficits, decreased credit ratings, job losses and a limited funding for the administration’s infrastructure program.

He said that a “clear and unambiguous discussion” would prevent misunderstanding. He also cited the issue involving internal revenue allotment of local government units.

The finance secretary explained that if they were to implement the draft charter, the government would incur a deficit of 6.7 percent, possibly leading to a credit rating downgrade for the country. Such would result in higher interest rates.

Dominguez suggested that in order to avoid the said economic consequences, the government spending must be reduced by 560 billion pesos. It would mean 70 percent cutback on ‘Build, Build, Build’ program’s funding or laying off 95 percent of its employees.

The economic official also clarified that he is not totally against the federal shift.

“As we pointed out earlier, we never stated that we are against federalism. Rather, with respect to the fiscal provisions of the proposed constitution, there are ambiguous provisions on revenue assignment and there are no provisions on expenditure assignment. There are, likewise, principles on revenue sharing that do not appear to be well-studied,” he said.

National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) director-general and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia also pointed out that rushing the charter into implementation was “not good.”

In a report from the Manila Times, last month he warned that the shift in government would “wreak havoc” in the economy because it might spike the fiscal deficit.

“The shift will also be too costly for the government and may disrupt the economy’s growth momentum,” Pernia said.

Pernia did not entirely oppose the shift, but he cautioned the committee not to rush the decision.

Roque said during a Palace briefing that he respected the views of Dominguez and Pernia concerning the draft federal charter and believes that the finance secretary still vouches for the federal charter to push through.

“Naniniwala ako na si Secretary Dominguez po ay pabor pa rin sa pederalismo, (I believe that Secretary Dominguez remains in favor of federalism),” Roque said.

Roque added that Dominguez was merely asking questions.

“Siya (Dominguez) po ay kumbaga may mga tanong doon sa draft na isinumite ng Consultative Committee, pero dapat pag-usapan siguro ng lahat kung paano nga makakarating patungo sa pederalismo, (He Dominguez questions the draft submitted by the Consultative Committee, however, everyone should discuss how it should arrive at federalism),” he said.

Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Epimaco Densing on Thursday, August 9 clapped back on the economic officials. He stated that they were “not supportive” of the federalism push.

He called out economic officials from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Department of Finance (DOF) and Department of Budget and Management (DBM) in a Facebook post.

“With all due respect to my peers in government, rather than shooting the concept, they should have helped in thinking of answers to their own query,” Densing wrote.

He also criticized their failure to include federalism in the country’s development plan.

“That is why unusually, they did not even put federalism in the Philippine Development Plan of PRRD, which would have been the vehicle for economic development,” he added.

Consultative Committee member Fr. Ranhilio Aquino also voiced out his disagreement on the economic managers’ insights. In his Facebook post, he believed that his Dominguez and Pernia might influence the president to oppose federalism.

He also questioned the president’s stance on the federal charter.

“Let’s stop fooling ourselves. If Dominguez and Pernia, in their official capacities, speak loudly against federalism, then the question should be asked in all earnestness whether the president is for it or not,” Aquino said.

He then challenged the president to express his desire to pass the federal constitution. He also suggested silencing the economic officials.

“Let us be clear now and let our President speak with a convincing baritone that he wishes Congress to pass a federal constitution — if indeed he wishes it so rather than in quavering falsetto. And if he favors federalism let him sack Dominguez and Pernia or command them to keep their traps shut,” Aquino wrote.

Aquino also addressed both Dominguez and Pernia on their roles as cabinet members.

“Freedom of expression does not apply to Cabinet officials in respect to policy,” Aquino reiterated.

He concluded his post with a plea to end “double talk”. He urged the leader to clarify his plans on the federalism push as respect to those who drafted it.

“If the president is now cool to federalism let him give the order to abandon the federalist ship. Then all of us fools who wrote the draft and defended it with all our might will know that we have been taken for a ride – for a very expensive ride – but we shall at least have the chance to abandon ship before it is scuttled!” Aquino stated.

The presidential spokesperson responded to Aquino’s retort recognizing the effort he put into the charter’s draft.

“We welcome the concerns of Fr. Ranhilio Aquino as a member of the Consultative Committee and acknowledge his passion and hard work in contributing to the drafting of the federal charter,” Roque said in a statement. 

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