Monday, March 19, 2018
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Proposed federalization is a fixed deal

The move to amend the Constitution through a constituent assembly (Con-ass) is an effort to ram down the nation’s collective throat the shift to federalization even while obscuring the key issue of dynastic rule in the country.

The advantage of amending the Charter through another method was demonstrated in the proceedings of the 1971 Constitutional Convention (Con-con). The key issue then was the choice between the presidential and the parliamentary form of government, and the candidates to the convention presented their stand as to which form was worthy of support. Filipinos elected in overwhelming numbers those delegates who would vote to maintain the presidential form of government.

(A number of us still remember the sordid developments as exposed by the delegate from the first district of Leyte, Eduardo Quintero. A retired ambassador, Quintero revealed at an assembly of the Con-con delegates in May 1972 that he had been receiving money in envelopes intended to sway him to favor the parliamentary form of government that then President Ferdinand Marcos had been pushing in order to perpetuate himself in power. Quintero said he believed the envelopes had come from Imelda Marcos.)


If we use the Con-con approach today, the people, as in the early 1970s, will be given an opportunity to decide firsthand the issue of the unitary vs. the federal system of government. The people will be enabled to make their preference known based on the platforms of the delegates they will elect to the Con-con. As shown by the Quintero case, we are capable of electing delegates with integrity, who will honor their commitments to the people. There will be exhaustive discussions on federalization, with the Con-con candidates debating the merits of the choices. At present, there are no such discussions; the information provided to the public is one-sided, all citing the supposed advantages of federalization while overlooking its disadvantages.

As Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman pointed out recently, a Con-ass would become “a virtual rubber stamp” of President Duterte. Indeed, a Con-ass approach ensures a fixed deal: The proposed constitution that will be presented to the people is a finished product; they will be asked outright to choose between a federal and a unitary system of government without being fully informed of the issues.

Omitted in the whole process is the all-important issue of political dynasties. A constitution drafted by the present dynast-dominated Congress will have a predictable outcome. It will, like our present Constitution, make a showcase effort to abolish dynasties—an effort without substance. A convention made up of delegates elected by the people can better address this issue.  As in the proposed shift to federalization, the prospective delegates will also present to the public their platforms on political dynasties. In fact, the issue of political dynasties underpins the initiatives to change our form of government.

In 1969, I was a recipient of a training grant from the Unctad (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) in Geneva, on the promotion of foreign trade. A part of our orientation training was a lecture by a Swiss professor who discussed the features of the Swiss government. He fielded many questions as to why Switzerland seems to be the only successful federal system of government in the world. To paraphrase his remarks: “We are a well-disciplined people. We know what to expect from each other; we also know what our government can do and cannot do in our behalf. Thus, any system of government will work in Switzerland.”

The question we should ask is: Given that we will have a Con-ass-initiated constitution that will be prepared by members of political dynasties, can whatever form of government we adopt that is dominated by dynasties be run efficiently? Filipinos should not be hoodwinked; they should consider the issue of political dynasties when they vote on the proposed new constitution.

Hermenegildo C. Cruz was accredited as Philippine ambassador to the United Nations in 1984-86 and to Moscow in 1986-1990.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, charter change, Con-ass, constituent assembly, federalism, hermenegildo c. cruz, Inquirer Commentary
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