Ship of fools

President Duterte receives proposed federal constitution of Consultative Committee
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Were they fools duped into boarding the “federalist ship,” and drafting and defending a constitution that would supposedly bring into fruition President Rodrigo Duterte’s oft-repeated claim that a shift to a federal form of government would accelerate the development of the country’s poorest regions? At least one member of the Duterte-appointed Consultative Committee (Con-Com), who helped write the draft that’s now in Congress, is beginning to think so.
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No better time than never

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno
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Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno says this is the “better time” to shift to a federal form of government. He didn’t say what he was comparing today with (a better time than when?). But he did claim that it’s because there’s enough public support to realize it.

Puno didn’t say this because the public opinion polls say so. No survey on what people think of federalism has so far established if there is indeed widespread support for it. The former chief justice instead based this assessment on the results of the 2016 presidential elections, which Rodrigo Duterte won with 16 million votes.

Since Duterte the candidate made the shift to a federal government from the present unitary form one of the planks of what passed for his campaign platform, Puno concludes that his victory indicates popular support for federalism.

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A dangerous game

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About Benigno Aquino III’s declaration in a TV5 interview that he would “listen to his bosses,” we can either (1) assume that it was his demure way of saying that he will indeed seek a second term, or (2) dismiss it as merely an attempt to allay the fears of his Liberal Party mates that, without him, they would have no winnable candidate in 2016 and would have to face the chilling prospect of not having anyone of their own in Malacañang for six years. In either case, it has triggered a contentious debate that could lead to consequences Mr. Aquino may not have anticipated.

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Worse than the problem

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CONGRESSMAN Feliciano Belmonte has filed a resolution urging both Houses of Congress to propose amendments to Articles 2, 12 and 16 of the Constitution.

These provisions restrict foreign exploitation of natural resources, and limits foreign investments to certain areas as well as ownership of public utilities, advertising firms and the media, among others. Belmonte says these provisions must be amended to address the continuing poverty in the country despite economic growth by relaxing restrictions on foreign investments.

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Yes they will

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Constitutional amendments at this time will lead to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s remaining in power, a prospect dire enough to compel immigration to another planet. But there are other threats in charter change about which we should be no less fretful.

Three years after then House Speaker Jose de Venecia launched an attempt through a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, and despite the opposition of 79 percent of the population today, Mrs. Arroyo’s henchmen and women in Congress are still at it.

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Clever girl!

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The plan for constitutional amendments has been compared to a dance, which among metaphor-conscious Filipinos followed naturally from the use of “cha cha” as shorthand for it. Cha cha DIs have indeed been trying to lure everyone onto the dance floor through various inducements, among them the promise of relief from poverty, which they claim’s the result of a perennial gridlock between the President and Congress. But most Filipinos won’t dance, and it’s not so much because they think federalism and a parliamentary form of government won’t work. It’s because they doubt the motives of their champions.

Before July the result had been a dance floor littered with DIs dancing with themselves, while most of the would-be instructees have left the building. But if you think the dance hall owners and the DIs had packed up and gone out of business, think again. Despite a less than lukewarm public reception, they’ve persisted all these years. They’ve carried the campaign to schools and universities, to business groups and academia, to civil society and the media, where at least the issue has somehow remained alive, if not well and kicking.

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The gorilla in our midst

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It’s tempting to ascribe what the Arroyo government has done — forge a contentious MOA that’s likely to provoke more war rather than usher in peace — either to stupidity, a failure to fully appreciate the situation in Mindanao, or to plain clumsiness. But the temptation is tempered by the suspicion that it knew from the beginning what it was doing — and what its consequences were likely to be.

Among other epithets, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between itself and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) it would have signed last Tuesday had not the Supreme Court intervened has been called treasonous, a betrayal, and unconstitutional. It in fact creates an entity — an autonomous state within an existing non-federal, centralized system — the present Constitution doesn’t sanction. To mean anything, it would require the restructuring of the entire Republic into a federation via the charter change of our worst nightmares.

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