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Commentary

Cha-cha, RevGov and ML

05:05 AM December 18, 2017

It looks like RevGov (revolutionary government) is now a discredited initiative given the anemic public support it received last Nov. 30. But many political commentators still urge Filipinos to stay vigilant against threats to overthrow the existing constitutional order.

The Philippine system of democracy and economic regime are far from perfect. But as a democratic nation, we have achieved so much since ousting the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

It does not make sense to simply throw these gains away by reverting to authoritarianism, such as RevGov. It is even more confounding to mix this insane notion with the serious business of Charter change (Cha-cha).

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Cha-cha and RevGov are diametrically opposed to one another. The former is a legitimate process, while any outcome from the latter would always have questionable legitimacy.

It would be better then, to just focus our attention on the only proper way to implement the administration’s plan to revise the 1987 Constitution — indeed, the only legal and democratic way to facilitate a fundamental change in our current system of government.

According to the chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, the hearings on a joint resolution calling for Congress to work as a constituent assembly will formally commence in January, with the goal of conducting the plebiscite in the latter part of 2018.

This timetable is unacceptable given that fellow Filipinos in Mindanao are preoccupied with fighting a rebellion. More importantly, President Duterte, with the support of Congress, has extended martial law (ML) in Mindanao for the whole of 2018.

Cha-cha and ML are not a good mix as well. The memory of Marcos using his martial law powers to railroad the enactment of the 1973 Constitution, which then facilitated his 14-year authoritarian rule, continues to be a painful reminder.

Moreover, the likelihood of a “preordained” draft charter being forced on us like the 1973 Constitution is very hard to ignore. And the possibility of suffering under a constitutional dictatorship all over again is utterly frightening.

For this reason, the plan to produce a draft constitution for ratification in 2018 should be shelved. We simply cannot have a plebiscite while Mindanao is under ML.

This does not mean stopping the Cha-cha process itself. Next year can be used by the administration as an opportunity to mount a more coherent and organized
education campaign.

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It will certainly be more beneficial for the people if the promoters of federalism rally behind one message only. The current setup of different groups in the administration offering their respective versions of federalism is not helpful at all.

This disorganized approach just leaves Filipinos more confused about the proposal and less convinced that shifting to a federal system is the right step forward. Ironically, it could also explain Mr. Duterte’s observation that many Filipinos still do not have a firm grasp of federalism.

But it is not just the administration that bears the responsibility of educating Filipinos about this massive constitutional reform. The academe, media and civil society organizations share this burden, too. Obviously, a coordinated effort will be a big boost in the Cha-cha process.

Former Senate president Nene Pimentel encapsulates how we should be treating this major reform undertaking. In his remarks during the launch of the book published by the Ateneo School of Government, “Debate on Federal Philippines: A Citizen’s Handbook,” he warned: “The proposal for a federal system is not set in stone. Whether we adapt the federal system or not, it is up to the people to decide. That is why we need forums and discussions to engage the public. We should not leave it in the hands of lawmakers.”

Here the grand old statesman was not belittling the capabilities of members of Congress to lead the Cha-cha process. He was simply reminding Filipinos who should be the real driving force pushing this watershed reform initiative.

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Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, charter change, Inquirer Commentary, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, RevGov, revolutionary government, Rodrigo Duterte
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