[OPINION] Do the people want Charter change?

January 22, 2018 at 14:00

Do the people want Charter change?

(Part 7)

By Florangel Rosario Braid | Published 


Last Tuesday night, the House of Representatives hastily passed Resolution No. 9 which would allow the convening of Congress into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) that would amend the 1987 Constitution for a shift to federalism. But the members of the Senate quickly held a caucus where they agreed to oppose the move that would call for a joint voting and joint session under Con-Ass. Earlier, Senator Lacson had introduced a resolution calling for the constitution of the Senate into a Constituent Assembly to propose amendments to or revision of the Constitution and upon, approval of three-fourths (3/4) vote of its members, adopt the same. Sen. Kiko Panganiban describes the situation as a “stalemate” as the Senate would not allow any railroading of Charter change. Senate President Koko Pimentel noted, “If they are dancing different dances, then we don’t have a Cha-cha.” Sen. Frank Drilon asked former Chief Justice Puno whether the Supreme Court can compel the Senate to act on the House resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly. The reply of Justice Puno was that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to decide questions that are political in nature.

On Wednesday morning, the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments chaired by Senator Francis Pangilinan, together with the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation, conducted a public hearing on proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

Among the resource persons from the executive branch were  Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, and Secretary Adelino Sitoy, NEDA. The League of Provinces and League of Cities was (represented by Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista) and League of Municipalities). Former members of the legislative and judiciary braches – former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr.,  former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., former SC Chief Justice Reynato Puno, and former framers of the 1987 Constitution, former SC Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna, Ed Garcia and myself; as well as heads of political science and governance of UP and Ateneo, and sectoral groups involved in political and sectoral reforms.

The hearing which lasted over five hours was the first of several public hearings which the Senate plans to conduct in addition to carrying out public consultations in various parts of the country. This would address the need for increased public awareness of the issues involved in constitutional change and a shift to a federal structure. For among the issues that surfaced during the hearing were lack of appreciation of this significant structural change and its implication. As some may know, an earlier survey had shown that 73% of the people do not understand the Charter; and that perhaps an even larger number have little awareness of federalism. Reacting to a text commenting on the use of English during the hearing, Sen. Angara, chair of the senate committee on Local Government noted that maybe we should try to make this subject matter better understood by the people. Questions and answers explaining difficult terminologies such as subsidiarity, asymmetric relationships, devolution, etc. as well as providing examples and scenarios and relating them to their everyday life can help towards improved public appreciation.

Sen Recto observed that going federal would result in having an additional layer in the bureaucracy, passing more laws and more costs. Also, that he had not heard from leaders of local government about their wanting Charter change. Several senators expressed concern over how the present Constitution, or if revised, can really respond to people’s authentic needs. Senator Legarda, citing survey findings showing the top ten problems facing Filipinos today, asked how Charter change and federalism could address these concerns. Sen. Gatchalian asked what may be done to help the people, and whether there are studies that indicate how a change in structure of governance can have an impact on people’s social and economic condition. According to Sen. Gordon, our major concern must focus on how to become a problem-solving country. One alternative is to focus on merely amending the economic provisions of our 31-year-old charter. Sen. Aquino would like to learn about best practices in public consultation. How did framers of our last Constitution get people involved? Many think that the Con-Con (Constitutional Convention) is the preferred mode over the Con-Ass, even though the latter is less costly to implement. But this is a cheap argument, says Justice Puno who emphasized that a good Constitution is the best investment we can make.

Justice Puno favors federalism and a revision or overhaul of the Constitution. Time and again, we have been classified as a “failing democracy” he said, and this is because of our unitary system. The decentralization of powers of the national government had not been effective. Thus, he proposes the “noncentralization of powers where political, economic, and social powers to the states would come from the Constitution, not from the national government. This would also promote self-determination, He suggests a “hybrid” constitutional convention to be composed of elected and appointed delegates which would be non-partisan.

Both Senator Pimentel and Justice Davide agree that the Con-Con would be the best mode. We need not implement a full-blown federalism. We could adopt “evolving” federalism where only regions that are ready would federalize, Puno noted. If we think that only three regions are ready, then they should shift ahead of the others. He cites Belgium as an example of a country that had taken 21 years to evolve from its unitary state.

The Bangsamoro state could be a template, says Justice Davide. Thus, we can pass the law today and the Bangsamoro could be the first federal state that would demonstrate the feasibility of federalism. Resource persons from the academe and former frames agree that constitutional change should be done incrementally, in stages and phases, and that at the heart of the process, we must put the people first. The latter must have freedom to express themselves, and not to be cowed by the majority, Sen. Pimentel said.

Davide, however, believes that there is no need to change the Constitution but to focus on provisions which today have yet to be implemented. Going federal today is a “lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, a leap to hell,” he says. Pimentel does not agree, noting that going federal would give meaning to the devolution intended by the Local Government Code. Federalism would likewise prevent secession, Puno and Pimentel said. Changing the Constitution is likewise a necessary condition for the passage of the BBL law, a move much awaited by our Moro community.

There were about over a hundred people at the public hearing. Someone whispered to me that he heard most of them saying they were against Charter change. And most of them were young people, mostly college students or young professionals.

There was general unanimity on some imperatives: To pass a law on political dynasty, investing in political parties, developing the best and the brightest among young leaders. Most important of all, how we can enable our people to become more participative, involved, and accountable? This then would assure us about their readiness to take the lead in initiating and implementing change.

Source: https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/01/19/do-the-people-want-charter-change/

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