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Politics

Duterte vows to decentralize to bring wealth to regions

Philippine leader pushes constitutional change to promote rural growth

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his State of the Nation address at the House of Representatives in Quezon city, Metro Manila on Monday.   © Reuters

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday endorsed a proposal to change the Philippine constitution and decentralize the national government's powers to spread economic growth to the countryside.

Duterte, in his third annual state of the nation address, sought support from Filipinos in his bid to revise the constitution and restructure the Philippine leadership into a federal government from a centralized structure.

"I am confident that the Filipino people will stand behind us as we introduce this new fundamental law," Duterte said in his speech that was delayed for more than an hour due to a standoff in the leadership at the House of Representatives.

Duterte's consultative committee on July 3 completed its draft federal constitution after five months of deliberations. It spells out political reforms such as equal representation of federated regions in the senate and economic reforms that give exclusive powers to local governments in socioeconomic development planning, including taxation and business licensing rules, among others. Duterte received a copy of the proposed charter on July 9.

In endorsing the federal constitution, Duterte said the proposed shift in government creates an equal opportunity for every Filipino to grow, regardless of social status, religion or ideology. He said the proposed federal constitution "will truly embody the ideal aspirations of all the Filipino people."

While the Philippines has been one of Asia's fastest-growing economies, its expansion is far from inclusive. Metro Manila and its two nearby provinces account for 70% of the country's total output. Duterte, the first president from the southern islands of Mindanao, has vowed to further ramp up government spending in the countryside.

Plans to shift to a federal system, however, still lack public support. A survey by pollster Pulse Asia showed 67% of Filipinos are opposed to amending the constitution. At the same time, a separate survey showed only a quarter of Filipinos are aware of a federal system of government.

Duterte's predecessors have also moved to amend the constitution, but all have failed to tweak the 1987 charter.

In his speech, Duterte also stood firm in his war against drugs, which have been widely criticized internationally for the rise in extrajudicial killings and the murder of thousands of suspected drug offenders.

At the same time, Duterte defended his tax reform package which cut personal income taxes but raised levies on oil and other products, a move that contributed to the fastest rise in inflation in at least five years. Duterte urged Congress to fast-track the approval of the remaining tax packages, which include raising taxes on the mining industry, liquor and tobacco, reducing corporate taxes and rationalizing fiscal incentives.

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