WHAT if Congress makes a mess out of this rush to change the current unitary setup to a federal one? That’s the question a friend asked me when we talked about the Duterte administration’s push for federalism. How damaging to our country would such an experiment be if it fails? And is there a way to punish the perpetrators?
We raised those queries as leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed to form Congress into a constituent assembly (Con Ass) to start the process of changing the 1987 Constitution and effect a shift in our political setup from unitary to federal. In the process, they dispensed with the better way of doing it, which is via a Constitutional convention (Con Con).
I am opposed to any move to amend the Constitution (charter change or Cha Cha) and also wary of a shift to a federal setup. My main beef with Cha Cha is that it would be done when progressive and liberal thinking has taken the backseat and traditional politicians (trapos) dominate the current political leadership. As for federalism, I think it would only strengthen the rule of political dynasties in the local setting, which has been the bane of the country’s governance.
It is for the same reason that I don’t Like Con Ass for the Cha Cha. Not only is the current Congress dominated by trapos, it is also utterly beholden to President Rodrigo Duterte. Which would mean that schemes that would serve the interests of these trapos and the president could easily wiggle into the provisions of the Constitution that they would draft. For example, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is already talking of a no election (no-el) scenario for 2019 and the extension of the terms of the current administration.
Electing delegates to a Con Con would have at least given the said body a certain level of independence that Congress as Con Ass would never have. And they would have been better equipped for the job because they would be voted upon for the sole purpose of changing the Constitution. Remember the Con Con that drafted the 1973 Constitution? It had some of the country’s intellectual giants as members.
But the Con Ass is there, and the only way to ensure its members won’t make a mess of their work or push for their own personal and partisan interests is to monitor how they are implementing their tasks and exert pressure on them to do their job well and remind them that they are there to serve, foremost, public good.
There, too, is the hope that well-meaning leaders and citizens would not look the other way and instead unite to ensure that people’s interest would be protected. While President Duterte has remained popular, that does not mean we would leave to them the crafting of this country’s future. For all we know, this popularity could be a mirage created by administration trolls in social media.
While Duterte won in the 2016 elections, his supporters did not constitute the majority of the voters overall. It is time for those who did not vote for Duterte to come out of the wood works and assert their ascendancy over this issue. The matter of changing the Constitution and our political setup is much too serious to be left to the Duterte administration alone.
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on January 12, 2018.
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