Legal experts, local execs divided over ‘Cha-cha’

February 2, 2018 at 11:00

Legal experts, local execs divided over ‘Cha-cha’

Legal experts and local government leaders bared a sharp difference in views in Thursday’s Senate hearing on Charter change.

Local officials called for Charter change in order to empower local government units, especially in terms of access to the government’s revenues. But legal experts warned about the possible effects of amending the Constitution to pave the way for federalism, the system of government being pushed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

Former Supreme Court associate justice Vicente V. Mendoza warned that federalism would weaken and divide the country as it would “open fissures and promote regional difference” in society.

“A shift to a federal system will weaken our Republic and render naught the years spent to attain national unity, when regional development can be more effectively achieved by meaningful and more vigorous decentralization of national power without need of constitutional amendment,” he said.

He proposed instead the implementation of “greater decentralization” in the country.

“I would say stop at decentralization because beyond that is a cliff into which we might fall and never be able to come back,” Mr. Mendoza said.

Lawyer Christian S. Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, criticized the proposed federalism model of the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), describing its version as “disappointing.”

“Why is it pushing for a federal-parliamentary system which they admit does not directly, but only indirectly, address the twin problems of mass poverty and gross inequalities?…” he said.

Mr. Monsod also questioned the motives of PDP-Laban over its 11-year transition to federalism.

“If the plebiscite is held in May 2019, the transition will end at the earliest in 2030. During the transition, with existing local government officials constituting the Regional Commission with both executive and legislative powers until the organic laws for each region are enacted, and the regional officials are elected, that’s the carrot for them to deliver the votes for the Cha-cha train — a term of 11 years from 2019-2030,” he said.

While clarifying that he was not against federalism, Mr. Monsod stressed that it was not yet the right time to transition toward that system.

“A messed-up structure change is virtually irreversible and may lead to the ruin of our democracy. I submit that there may be an alternative to consider rather than an immediate structural change by 2019,” he said.

He said the issues raised on the need to shift to federalism could be solved through legislation, such as enacting a fiscal decentralization measures and an anti-dynasty law.

Meanwhile, in its position paper, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) expressed its reservations on federalism over concerns on Muslims and Lumad groups in Mindanao.

“A major objection to a federal system that devolves power to the Federal States on an equal basis will not satisfactorily address the aspirations of the Muslims and Lumads in Mindanao for self-determination and respect for ancestral rights,” the CBCP said in part.

Batangas Governor Hermilando Mandanas of the League of Provinces of the Philippines (LPP) argued the Constitution should be changed, especially on its provisions on local autonomy.

Mr. Mandanas said local government units wanted to increase their share in the national government’s internal revenue collection from 40% to 60%. He also urged greater control and supervision of LGUs of their natural resources.

He also recommended Charter change through people’s initiative, another mode of amending the Constitution where amendments may be directly proposed upon a petition by at least 12% of registered voters.

Cavite City Governor Jesus Crispin C. Remulla, meanwhile, underscored the need to change the Constitution in order to address the disparity of budget allocations among local government units.

“If we are allowed to decentralize through federal system, our country will be strengthened. The problem is that people under the centralized form of government will never yield the power of the purse to local government. That needs to be seized,” he said.

Assistant Secretary Jonathan E. Malaya of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) cautioned against “piecemeal legislation” on Charter change, saying this would only lead to “stunted growth” instead of economic development.

“If you wish to improve the lives of the vast majority of people… we have to adapt true decentralization. To us, federalism is a more viable alternative. It is the highest form of decentralization,” said Mr. Malaya, executive director of the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute and a contributing author in the book, The Quest for a Federal Republic: The PDP-Laban (Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan) Model of Philippine Federalism 1.0, which was launched also on Thursday.

At the book launching, Senate President Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III said Senator Francis N. Pangilinan had given his “commitment (that)…we will not be an obstructionist.”

House Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez had earlier pointed that the agenda to pursue constitutional amendments cannot push through in the Senate because the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes is chaired by Mr. Pangilinan, the president of the opposition Liberal Party.

Mr. Pimentel, for his part, said his “only request” to Mr. Pangilinan is to “be fair” and “keep an open mind.”

“(W)e will, in good faith, adhere and pursue all the referrals to this committee. We will proceed at a reasonable pace, and then also be open and transparent,” Mr. Pimentel said.

Mr. Pimentel said the committee on Mr. Pangilinan’s watch “may now study the proposal from the administration or ruling party.”

“So if ever we can come up with an agreement, mayroon na pong produkto ’yan (there’ll be a product), that is a bipartisan report,” the Senate leader also said.

On a related matter, he said Congress is looking at May 2019 being the target date for the plebiscite but added that, in case the proposed amendment is so simple and can be done by June or July this year, there will be no need to wait until that time.

He said Congress can spend at least P7 billion to P8 billion for a stand-alone plebiscite if the situation calls for it.

Mr. Pimentel further clarified there will be elections by 2022 and no term extensions.

For his part, Julio C. Teehankee, one of the members of the consultative committee organized by President Rodrigo R. Duterte and also a contributing author in the book, said Mr. Duterte gave them six months to complete their review of the 1987 Constitution .

Mr. Malaya, for his part, said the department will “head the campaign for federalism.”

“Since the change of the Constitution requires approval of the people, then the DILG is going to undertake a long period of campaigning up to the barangay level and we will be producing materials to help the people understand better why federalism is important and why the President is pushing for federal system,” he said. — with Minde Nyl R. dela Cruz


  All rights to the stock images are owned by Getty Images and its image partners and are protected by United States copyright laws, international treaty provisions and other applicable laws.
Getty Images and its image partners retain all rights and are available for purchase by visiting gettyimages website.

Arangkada Philippines: A Business Perspective — Move Twice As Fast | Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines