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Philippines' Duterte starts moves to amend the constitution

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has set into motion a proposal to amend the 1987 constitution to set up a federal system of government to end conflict and give a further boost to the economy.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the change of command for the new Armed Forces chief at a military camp in Quezon city, Metro Manila, December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Duterte has signed an executive order creating a 25-member panel to propose specific amendments to the charter. The order was made public on Friday.

His executive secretary Salvador Medialdea said this week that the consultative committee, whose members will soon be appointed by Duterte, was given a six-month deadline to make its proposals before Congress can vote on the changes.

The existing constitution ratified in 1987 abolished the parliamentary system which dictator Ferdinand Marcos created and reverted to a presidential form, similar to that of the country’s former colonial master, the United States.

Duterte has said that a federal form of government would help end conflict with Muslim minority in the south, which has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced 2 million.

Two Muslim rebel factions have been negotiating for an autonomous region in the south for four decades and Duterte believes a federal system, which can grant more political and economic power to the minority, can end the rebellion.

Duterte has also vowed to step down from power even before his term ends in 2022 if the two houses of Congress can set up the federal system in the next few years.

“If you can give me that document, I would urge you to call for an election,” Duterte has said. “I will go, do not worry about me, I don’t have any ambition.”

Medialde said Duterte also favoured constitutional change to further open up the economy, amending restrictive provisions such as limiting foreign investment in retail and other sectors to 40 percent. Land ownership would remain in Filipino hands.

Senators, including those in the minority faction, are expected to go along with the president’s proposal.

“I think the consensus is there, after 30 years, there is need to review the constitution,” said Senator Franklin Drilon, a senior member of the rival Liberal Party.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato; Editing By Kim Coghill