Friday , May 25, 2018

Amante: “Puspos” in the Constitution

THE moment he stumbled on “lunggatiin,” I knew Timothy would need some time to learn to love the Constitution.

For a class assignment, my 9-year-old nephew has to memorize the preamble to the 1987 Constitution in Filipino. For a young Bisaya whose most sustained exposure to Filipino comes from the soap opera he watches with his grandmother on some afternoons, that’s a big challenge. He understands the language enough to follow the trials of Ivy Aguas/Lily Cruz on “Wildflower,” but he’s too young to ponder what it will take to create “a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations.” In Filipino, that’s “isang Pamahalaang nakakatawan sa aming mga mithiin at mga lunggatiin.”

I think of Moti when reading about efforts to amend the Constitution these days, because his confusion feels familiar. To try to get a handle on the situation, I read “The PDP Laban Model of PH Federalism: An Executive Summary,” written by Jonathan Malaya of the PDP Laban Federalism Institute and made available online by, among others, the Ateneo de Manila University. It offers a useful introduction to the Duterte administration’s efforts to push for a federal system of government with a hybrid parliamentary system.

A reassuring note surfaces in the document’s early paragraphs. “It is essential,” Malaya wrote, “that we continue to strengthen our democracy not by supplanting or doing away entirely with the 1987 Constitution…that allowed us to abandon Marcos authoritarianism and move forward.” He assured that “continuity and stability” would be pursued, even as “improvements” would be woven into the Charter.

I do have some questions about some directions outlined so far, but will keep an open mind. One proposal that bears watching is for a prime minister to share some of the executive powers concentrated at present in the presidency. The prime minister, Malaya explained, would handle the day-to-day affairs of Government, “set domestic and economic policy, and control public finances.” He or she would also propose the national budget, for approval by the Federal Assembly. But the prime minister would be an appointee of the president, “with the consent of the Federal Assembly.” We’ve been there, done that in the martial law years: are there no other models with less baggage?

Some details of the proposed Federal Assembly are promising. Some, less so. For instance, the 400-member assembly that’s meant to replace the House of Representatives would have more PR than the present House. Proportional representation, not public relations. Malaya’s summary pointed out that 40 percent of the assembly would be elected through PR from among the accredited national parties. Our current party-list system gets only 20 percent of the House seats.

However, the proposal is also for the assembly to have the exclusive power to initiate legislation. The proposal provides for a Senate elected by region, with three senators from each. Good. The bad news is that senators wouldn’t be able to introduce legislative proposals and would only review bills passed by the assembly.

These are early days and it would be silly to reject the proposals before these have been fleshed out. Keeping an open mind will be a welcome challenge. Paying sustained attention to the discussions will be another, especially as these dive into the complicated details or if the language, in English or Filipino, becomes too dreary.

For now, I’m waiting for the nephew to get to that part about a government that is “puspos ng katotohanan,” though I still don’t know how to explain “a regime of truth” clearly to a child. The priority will be to reassure: “puspos” is Tagalog for “full” or “complete,” an adjective, and not the noun (a club, a bat) or verb (“to club, to hit”) that’s more familiar to us Cebuanos.