Duterte popularity starts to erode
CANBERRA—Barely two weeks after his inauguration on June 29, ominous signs have appeared, indicating that the popularity that fueled President Duterte’s landslide victory in last May’s elections is flagging and eroding.
The latest Pulse Asia survey, released on July 20, shows that more Filipinos are opposed today to constitutional change, a priority political reform being pushed by the new Duterte administration. According to the survey, 44 percent of respondents believe that the 1987 Constitution should not be amended—for now. On the other hand, 37 percent think it’s time to amend it, while 19 percent remain undecided.
The anti-Charter change plurality sentiment among Filipinos (44 percent) is shared by virtually the same percentages of people who are aware of the Cha-cha proposals and those with sufficient or a great deal of knowledge of the Constitution (both at 42 percent), said Pulse Asia.
The survey did not explain the reasons behind its findings. The implication seems to be that the proposal for Cha-cha will face rough sailing in Congress despite the “supermajority” of the government deputies in the House of Representatives. And the way it looks, control of the Senate by the government’s allies appear uncertain.
In his State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Duterte did not ram the Cha-cha proposal down the throat of Congress. Instead he disguised it behind the move to shift the political system from the present highly centralized presidential form of government to a federalized one. In the Sona, the president was ambiguous and he presented a muddled view of what he really wanted. He told the joint session of Congress: “You know my advice to you is… maintain a federal system, a parliament, but be sure to have a president… but I’m disqualified… and by that time I would no longer be here. (But) I can commit today to the Republic of the Philippines and its people: If you hurry up the federal system of government and you can submit it to the Fiipino people by the fourth, fifth year, proceso yan, e. You call for a referendum, and after that, call for a presidential election, I will go.”
But you just have a new president. Amending a constitution is not just a simple process. That can be facilitated by edicts issued from Malacañang by the highest officials of the Republic. Administration officials have made a great leap forward: They are now considering whether we follow the British Westminster parliamentary system or the French presidential model, this even before we have resolved the issue over the mode of amending the Constitution.
The sticky issue of mode was raised by former Senate president Franklin Drilon who said that Congress has the sole authority to decide on the mode of amending the Constitution. The mode of amendment, ” whether by Constitutional Assembly [Con-ass] or Constitutional Convention [Con-con], is the sole prerogative of Congress,” Drilon said in a statement. He issued the statement in response to attempts by the administration to fast-track the shift to the federal system.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had earlier said that President Duterte now prefers Con-ass over Con-con as the mode of amending the Charter.
But Drilon pointed out that unlike ordinary bills, a resolution calling for a review of the Constitution “does not need the approval of the President and cannot be vetoed by the President,” adding that the Filipino people themselves would ultimately decide whether or not they would ratify the amendments. The amendments themselves are not subject to the approval of the President, and neither can it be vetoed by him. Instead they are submitted in a plebiscite directly to the people, for their approval or rejection, he said.
In the Sona, the President directed legislators to copy the French presidential system, not the British Westminster parliamentary system, warning them that the latter is dangerous and takes time to work. This is understandable: President Duterte has no use for such a system.
Under the French model that President Charles de Gaulle chose for the Fifth Republic, the president of France was vested with strong executive powers to cope with crises. This model was adopted by the French constitution following the liberation of France from the Nazi occupation at the end of World War II. French critics slammed De Gaulle’s preferred system as an “elected monarchy.”
President Duterte is presuming too much if he imagines himself as a messianic Filipino version of De Gaulle or the incarnation of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Mr. Duterte does not have the moral or intellectual qualities of either of these two great men to claim he is the savior of the country from criminality and the drug menace. The big difference between Mr. Duterte and his role models is that they did not rule with a vow to kill people suspected of being criminals and drug lords.
Neither did De Gaulle nor Lee have vigilante death squads for cohorts.
Amando Doronila was a regular columnist of the Inquirer from 1994 to May 2016.