The past House rushed in late 2018 a charter for selfish ends and, only incidentally, a federal switch. Shamelessly deleted were present term limits and political-dynasty ban. Inserted was a legislative power to bloat self-allocations; lessened was the number of Supreme Court justices in the Senate and House electoral tribunals.
Presidential photo/King Rodriguez
Charter-Change: For federal or selfish politics?
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 17, 2019 - 12:00am

President Rody Duterte’s selection of two Speakers was not only to end squabbling among his political pals. It is seen also to seal Congress’ rewrite of the Constitution to his liking. No permanent friends in politics, only permanent interests.

Duterte wants federalized government. For some allies, federalism equals participative democracy equals progress. The second half of his term is his last chance for a shift. The House of Reps supermajority easily can hand him the three-fourths vote required to alter the 1987 Charter. But congressmen have vested interests. They will go federal only under certain conditions.

That’s tested. The past House rushed in late 2018 a charter for selfish ends and, only incidentally, a federal switch. Shamelessly deleted were present term limits and political-dynasty ban. Inserted was a legislative power to bloat self-allocations; lessened was the number of Supreme Court justices in the Senate and House electoral tribunals.

More tantalizers were thrown in: a Bill of Duties for authoritarian rule. Transfer to the admin’s Secretary of Justice the traditional Comelec power to indict election lawbreakers. Deletion of “betrayal of public trust and other high crimes” as impeachable offenses. Deletion of “allegiance at all times” of public officials and employees to the State and Constitution. Removal of ownership restrictions in natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, advertising, and mass media. The sitting Vice President was even erased from the line of succession during the federal transition (but restored due to public outcry).

And, oh, federal. Regions and component provinces and cities were given the option to become federal or remain under the central government. Whatever they chose, the past House couldn’t care less, so long as members’ term limits were scrapped and dynasties preserved.

Duterte’s consultative commissioners were aghast. They earlier had submitted to Malacañang and Congress their own federal charter. For six months they had toiled to operationalize the 1987 Constitution. In their draft, no longer may spouses and siblings, parents and offspring, grandparents and grandchildren simultaneously or successively hold elective office. Terms limits were retained. Added were funding and incentives for political parties, and foils to turncoats. The commissioners led by retired chief justice Reynato Puno and senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. wanted federal to work. Without those features the country would separate.

Most crucial for the commissioners was the regions’ simultaneous transition to federal units. That comprised a good part of their draft. But in making the switch optional, the past House showed gross indifference to if not ignorance of the federal system.

How can hybrid federal-unitary form work? Can federal regions operate under a central government of non-federal ones? The two types cannot coexist.

But what’s it to congressmen? So long as they and relatives in local positions stay in power, the system doesn’t matter. What does is that they draw pay, perks and pork to maintain their political wards and private armies, courtesy of the people.

The past Senate sat on the House draft. Amid budget debates, it found no time to Cha-Cha (Charter Change).

Most of the past congressmen, if not their dynastic kin, were reelected to this 18th Congress. They can regurgitate, even spice up, their old draft. VP Leni Robredo can be re-sidelined. Why, they might even insert term extensions for all beyond 2022, ostensibly to smoothen the slide to federal. Such self-serving rider had been attempted twice before.

The spittle will be served up to the new Senate. Schemers presume that with no “anti” senator winning last election, most of the pro-Duterte newbies and some oldies will lap it up. Dynastic perpetuity, no term limits, with term extensions to boot are so irresistible. With the minority decimated, chairmanship of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments can be removed from oppositionist Francis Pangilinan.

One hindrance to Cha-Cha would be ambition. Some senators are eyeing the Presidency in 2022, says Sen. Panfilo Lacson. A shift to federal and other Charter revisions would disrupt their plans.

Another barrier is whether a three-fourths voting shall be jointly by the Senate and House. Congressmen insist on it. The wording in the Charter implies joint, but only because of mis-editing by the 1987 stylists of a unicameral legislature. Senators want separate voting, the way they enact laws as a bicameral body. If changing the name of a highway takes separate voting, then more so changing the fundamental law, they argue.

Whether pro- or anti-Duterte, most senators reject joint voting. Numbering only 24, they will be drowned out by the 306 congressmen in deliberating provision after provision. If one amendment happens to be the dissolution of the Senate, the 24 will find themselves powerless, jobless, and witless.

The senators can’t rest easy. Just one legislator can go to the Supreme Court to compel a joint voting. Arguments sane and insane will be presented. A ruling will be made. Then will the electorate know if their Senate is worth keeping. Too, if bastardized federal will revert the Republic into dynastic island kingdoms.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

FEDERALISM RODRIGO DUTERTE SQUABBLING
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