Since February, administration officials and volunteers have been quietly leading an information drive on federalism in the provinces, away from the noise in Metro Manila, hoping that by the first quarter of 2018 the people would be ready to take changes in the constitution.

The Department of Interior and Local Government and the National Executive Coordinating Committee of the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte or MRRD-NECC, a nationwide group of volunteers that helped campaign for Duterte in the 2016 presidential elections, were leading the information drive.

If the Palace’s roadmap pushes through as scheduled, the process of amending the 1987 Constitution and setting into motion a federalism form of government would begin in January.

The President had until December to make up his mind and decide whether to back a constitutional commission--or the less-expensive constituent assembly with an advisory body to work on the amendments and steer public debate on charter change.

Last August 9, the President called for charter change through an appointed constitutional commission, saying he could appoint a 24-member commission.

Among the Cabinet men, only Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol raised some concerns during the presentation of the roadmap, asking if a change in government would adversely affect the country’s food security. Told there would be none, he returned to his seat. Secretary Adelino Sitoy, head of the Presidential Legislative Liason Office, facilitated the presentation.

Top choice
The President was expected to name former Chief Justice Reynato Puno to head the commission in his State of the Nation Address last July 24, but he didn’t push through, according to Palace sources after Senate President Koko Pimentel and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez dissuaded him from doing so.

The two Congress leaders reportedly assured the President they could muster enough numbers to pass key constitutional amendments, particularly on federalism, in a constituent assembly.

Told that some Palace officials feared the President might not be as popular by 2019, the two leaders reportedly assured that the rising outrage over allegations of human rights violations would not get in the way for the legislators into voting favorably on the proposed shift in government.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea had met with Justice Puno sometime in May to discuss the commission, according to Palace sources, but the subsequent Marawi siege got in the way of the secretary’s schedule to finalize plans.

Since retiring from the high tribunal in 2010, the man who helped draft the Freedom Constitution of the revolutionary government of President Corazon Aquino in February 1986 has been calling for changes in the 1987 Constitution.

In 2015, Puno led “Bagong Sistema, Bagong Pag-asa”, a movement seeking amendments to the charter. He accepted speaking engagements across the country for the people to see the value of rewriting the constitution.

In a speech last August 9, the President didn’t say that the Palace had been trying to complete the 24-member list the past months. Palace sources mentioned some 20 names--again, most of them from Mindanao-- but they still had no appointment papers.

In case the President eventually chooses to back the constituent assembly, the supposed constitutional commission will turn into an advisory body, the sources said.

Roadmap approved
The President approved the roadmap at the Cabinet meeting that lasted late into the night last May 8 without changes, but not without some questions on how much time would it take to travel the road to federalism.

The roadmap has taken the DILG and MRRD team to 44 provinces, mostly in Mindanao provincial and city halls, and school campuses, where the audience had warmly received the proposed changes, according to Palace sources. The ruling PDP-Laban has also conducted a parallel information drive on federalism.

Based on a copy of the roadmap shown to ABS-CBN News, the President will formally open public debate on charter change either by creating a commission or by asking the two houses of Congress to convene as a constituent assembly.

Under the roadmap, the proposed commission would be given a year, from January to December 2018, to study a set of proposed amendments and draft a new constitution.
By May 2019, the proposed constitution will be submitted to the public for ratification in a plebiscite.

Expecting a victory in the plebiscite, the authors of the roadmap set the transition period from presidential to parliamentary form of government beginning in July 2019, then followed by the creation of state governments, and later the election of federal officials in the same year.