Its advocates may think that amending the Constitution now would solve the country’s legions of problems by putting in place a supposedly gridlock-free system of governance. The eagerly prospective members of the Constituent Assembly in the House may believe that a “Con-Ass” would assure them an unlimited number of years in the parliament they’re almost certain to create. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may look at the shift to a parliamentary system as affording her the “dignified exit” come 2006 Fidel Ramos promised– and as even allowing her to run as a district MP (member of Parliament) from Pampanga and whatever opportune post comes along, the premiership and presidency included.

The rest of the country may be debating the issue, and going through the motions of seeming to decide whether charter change is timely and necessary, and if so, how much change there should be, or whether the changes are likely to mean anything. The usual pundits may also be saying that Ramos’ proposal for charter change by 2006, which Arroyo publicly adopted during her July 25 State of the Nation Address, won’t go through because of Senate opposition.

But however much it is debated, and however much the Senate and other sectors may oppose them now, what’s likely is that constitutional amendments, or even a totally new Constitution, will be in place for ratification by next year. Not only is there a confluence of domestic interests to which Constitutional amendments would be politically and economically advantageous. The United States, a far from disinterested observer of events in its neo-colony, also favors and regards Constitutional amendments as critical to its economic interests.

The domestic interests are best summed up in two words: political dynasties. Although the country’s so-called lawmakers have gotten around the term limits in the Constitution by making their wives, sons, daughters, nephews, nieces and other relatives run in their place, and by running now for Congress, and now for the Senate, a new Constitution without those limits would be more desirable.

The elimination of term limits would allow them as well as their relatives to run for parliament as often as they like. What’s more, there would be no fixed terms, their staying on in parliament being dependent solely on their numerical dominance.

And of course there’s the matter of failed presidential aspirant and House Speaker Jose De Venecia’s ambitions for the premiership, which a majority in parliament could easily hand him without the benefit of direct, popular elections, but solely as head of the dominant party. Former President Fidel V. Ramos, meanwhile, can be reincarnated as President, under a system, such as France’s or Israel’s, in which that post would be as powerful as that of prime minister.
Most of the majority party governors and mayors could very easily end up as provincial or state ministers and members of the provincial or state parliaments that a federal form of government—the twin to the proposal to shift to the parliamentary system—would have to create.

As for Mrs. Arroyo, while she would have to step down once a parliament is in place, she could very well run for MP in her and Bong Pineda’s spheres of influence in Pampanga—and, who knows, aspire once more for the post she’s now clinging to like a barnacle, depending on what the specifics of the parliamentary system and the federation would be.

The politician-proponents of the proposed shifts aren’t saying anything about the details, and that’s because they don’t want to be found out this early. Ramos, de Venecia and company would certainly have a blueprint now to assure that what would emerge would be to their interests, and perhaps even to Mrs. Arroyo’s to some extent. But the reason why they’re not talking about it is that once the details get out, it could be immediately evident that nothing much would change, and that the country will remain in the grip of the same political dynasties that have monopolized power in this country for six decades.

As for the United States, it couldn’t care less about whether there’s a shift to the parliamentary system or if the country retains the presidential system. But because it wants the present crisis resolved through “constitutional means,” the Ramos proposal—which US Embassy operatives might very well have helped craft—can only be acceptable, and its preferred “constitutional means” to solve the Arroyo crisis.

Beyond that, however, and it’s something that has so far escaped scrutiny, are those amendments to the Constitution and Philippine policies the US wants, other than the shift to a parliamentary system and to a federation.

Primarily those changes involve provisions in the Constitution and policies that restrict foreign investments in key economic sectors, as well as foreign ownership of the mass media and public utilities.

In addition to outright prohibitions on foreign ownership of the mass media and public utilities, current policies also restrict foreign ownership of telecommunications to 40 percent. Sixty percent Filipino ownership is required for those firms that wish to contract with the Philippine government in the construction of water, telecommunications, and transport systems as well as electric power distribution. Only Filipinos may own rural banks, while foreigners are limited to 51 percent equity in insurance companies.

Only Filipino-owned seacraft may engage in domestic shipping. Foreigners are barred from serving as crew members of Philippine ships. No foreign ownership of educational institutions, or of land and rice and corn processing plants is allowed.

In the view of the United States, the European Union, Japan, and their local
agents and spokesmen, all these “hamper development”.

The loudest and earliest proponent of Constitutional amendments to remove these restrictions agrees. Fidel V. Ramos was not coincidentally also the most aggressive of all Philippine presidents since Corazon Aquino in globalizing the Philippine economy (read: allowing the unrestricted entry of foreign capital and removing all protection for local industries), and in whose term the Mining Act of 1995—which converts the entire country into potential mining areas– was passed.

Much has been made of the current Philippine senators’ opposition to Constitutional amendments via Congress’ being convened into a “constituent assembly.” Expect this resistance to dissipate as soon as it becomes clear to the Senate majority that it’s in the interest of everyone in the political and economic elite—the landlords, the big businessmen, themselves and the US overlords of this country included—that not only is a shift to a parliamentary system and to a federal form of government achieved, but that those pesky nationalist provisions of the Constitution and the policies to which they gave birth are excised from whatever Constitution will emerge in 2006. Charter change is foregone as planned.

(Unpublished commentary)

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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