Charter change referendum?

STRAWS IN THE WIND - Eladio C. Dioko - The Freeman

There's a call for a referendum on a constitutional convention to effect needed changes or amendments in the 1987 Constitution. The call is spearheaded by former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno. His proposal: Include in the 2016 balloting the question of whether or not such convention should be held.

That call deserves the support of all well-meaning Filipinos.

After almost three decades the 1987 Constitution, crafted during the revolutionary government of President Corazon Aquino, has been found to contain defective provisions. Revisions or amendments are therefore necessary to make this fundamental law responsive to the exigencies of the time.

Clearly, the most urgent need is the restructuring of the government from the presidential unitary form into either parliamentary federal system (like that of Great Britain) or presidential federal one (like that of the United States).

In the parliamentary federal government, the party with the most number of representatives becomes the ruling party with its head serving as the prime minister. The executive functions are exercised by cabinet members appointed by the prime minister from the member of his party in the parliament. There is therefore no executive branch of government strictly speaking, a body which in the presidential system is independent from the legislative.

In the presidential federal government, the three independent branches-Executive, Legislative, Judiciary--do exist. An elected president serves as the head of state and the head of government. He runs the government with the help of appointed department secretaries who constitute his official cabinet.

Which type of a federal government is suitable for the Philippine? Both systems have advantages and disadvantages and this will surely be debated on by the Convention delegates. But whatever form will be adopted the most crucial decision will hinge on the extent of power decentralization and the strengthening of local government units.

Our present form of government is too centralized. Policies are formulated in the capital city. Implementing strategies are hatched therein by empowered bureaucrats to which lower officials in provinces and cities can only say Amen.

The nucleus of this power-center, however, is the office of the president which in the context of the Philippine bureaucracy is a supreme entity whose authority may not be questioned. As head of state and of the government the president becomes therefore some kind of a superman whose temperament, if less democracy oriented, would find it difficult to accept the decisions and actions of Congress and even of the Supreme Court. Such tendency is of course divisive and tends to weaken the country's democratic institutions.

One reason why this tends to happen is that the president himself actually holds the purse of the government  andconsidering that the budget secretary is his appointee. releases of funds are therefore controlled by the latter and here the dirty smell of politics could influence the process. What is worse is that the executive office can do a mumbo-jumbo on the money in its hands. That ingenious Disbursement Acceleration Program of the current administration is a classic example of such tricky handling of funds. No wonder the Supreme Court struck it down.

Like the executive branch the legislature also needs to be looked into. The House , for one, is clearly bursting in the seam with too many lawmakers, about 350(including party-list) at present. These plus the 24 senators make up the lawmaking machine whose current budget amounts to more than 11 billion pesos.

Yet given a decent and service oriented  legislature that expense item is acceptable. But with the recent findings that many of these so called honorable gentlemen have been milking the country dry with their PDAF shenanigans something should be done to clip their powers and functions. A unicameral legislature? Perhaps, but whatever the format, Congress should function as Congress and not as a syndicate of power brokers and fortune hunters.

For all these bureaucratic handicaps one hope of relief is a new Constitution. Justice Puno's call should not therefore amount to a voice in the wilderness. From Aparri to Gensan the clamor for change should resound loud and thunderous-or this country will remain hostage to self- serving politicians.



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