Wenceslao: Worrisome haste

ONE of the few things I am trying to master under the current administration is timing when to engage and when to let go and looking at the bigger picture and accepting reality. I am also trying to drive away the worries that come when forced to look at the country’s state of governance. One of those worries is the way House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is shepherding the lower chamber.

One worry is the haste in the shift to federalism that Alvarez is pushing. I understand that the order to hold a plebiscite on the new federal setup in time for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in May comes from above, notably from President Rodrigo Duterte, but the House is half of one of the three supposedly independent branches of government under our democratic setup.

From January to May is only five months and Congress has yet to convene itself as a constituent assembly (Con Ass) as promised. Even that Con Ass thing is tricky considering the ticklish issue of how to treat the upper chamber (Senate), which only has 24 members as opposed to the House’s almost 300 members. Of course, it is only Alvarez that is talking so far and we still have to hear the stance of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.

The fate of the country’s political system to be decided upon in only five months? And we are not talking here of a mere change but rather radical change in setup from the present system to a federal one, something we don’t have any experience of doing. Consider, too, that the House has many things to do this year, including the impeachment of Supreme Court Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, who could then be tried by the Senate acting as an impeachment court.

Alvarez said Congress will convene itself into a Con Ass this month, then hold the plebiscite in May. He then raised the possibility of a “No-El” (no elections) in May 2019, the scheduled mid-term elections under the 1987 Constitution. Alvarez and all the members of the House, plus one-half of the Senate are set to either run for reelection or end their congressional stint by then. Is “No-El” the main reason for the haste in the rush toward a federal setup shift?

Which brings me the other reason for my worry. The Con Ass would be primarily composed of traditional politicians who, this early, have shown their capacity to run roughshod over the country’s values and progressive and liberal traditions in order to advance their own personal interests. Consider Alvarez, who is currently pushing for measures that serve his personal interests (ex. the disguised divorce law). What would happen if they are allowed to craft the country’s future?

As I noted before, this would be the worst time to shift to a federal setup or change our Constitution considering our current political makeup. I shudder at the mess that would be created, and the difficulty of undoing it. So why the haste? Is this a way to ensure that the continued rule of the current dispensation would be fortified before it would reach its eventual weakening, probably in 2019 when the people are given the chance to evaluate its the work?
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