MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – House Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel, a stalwart of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), is strongly backing the proposal to include strict anti-turncoatism provisions in the Constitution.
Pimentel said this during the House committee on constitutional amendments' hearing on Wednesday, February 19, about two weeks since PDP-Laban lost 4 key members – including two House deputy speakers – to the National Unity Party (NUP).
"I think it's about time that we should stop the practice of political butterflies. We have seen the culture of Philippine politics. Politicians have the propensity to change parties for expediency. Whoever is the power that be, kung ano'ng partido niya eh doon po tayo pumupunta (whatever his party may be, that's where we go)!" said the Surigao del Sur 2nd District congressman.
He cited the time when politicians jumped ship to the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party when Gloria Macapagal Arroyo became president from 2001 to 2010. When Benigno Aquino III of the Liberal Party succeeded Arroyo, many of the same politicians joined the new ruling party.
"So ang nangyayari po dito eh nakakahiya na. Dapat eh matapos na 'yung panahon ng mga balimbing. Hintuin na natin itong ugali na wala tayong mga prinsipyo, wala tayong pinapanindigan," Pimentel said. (READ: Party switching: 'Perversion' of political system)
(What's happening here is so embarrassing. The time of the turncoats should end. We should put a stop to the practice of politicians not standing up for their principles.)
Before Rodrigo Duterte ran and won for president under PDP-Laban in 2016, the party only had 3 members. Its numbers grew nationwide after Duterte's rise to power.
In the House, PDP-Laban had around 125 members at the start of Duterte's term, but the number is now down to just 62 district lawmakers. A good chunk of those who left the ruling party have joined NUP and the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats party.
Craft a separate bill or amend charter?
On Wednesday, the House panel continued its deliberations on the constitutional amendments proposed by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Federalism and Constitutional Reform.
The IATF wants to add strong anti-turncoatism provisions in the Constitution, including barring politicians from switching parties during their term as well as prohibiting them from jumping ship a year after elections and a year before the next polls.
But Magsasaka Representative Argel Cabatbat believes the House may be better off with legislating a new anti-turncoatism law, instead of amending the Constitution.
He also pointed out that the IATF proposal does not bar disgruntled members from forming a new party instead.
"Nothing here prevents them from putting up their own political party. So 'di ba, baka mag-create ito ng mas maraming political parties.... Dadami lang din, gugulo lang din (So this could create even more political parties.... It's just going to be more chaotic)," Cabatbat said.
The House committee was supposed to vote on the IATF's proposed amendments already, but panel chairperson Rufus Rodriguez said they "could not rush" this since several members still want to go through every provision.
"We see here that we could not rush this because that was precisely the question in December.... Because we had an executive session, it was [criticized as] secretive...so this will be open now. We consider that as a better procedure," Rodriguez told reporters in an ambush interview.