Pimentel, Alvarez merely telling Cha-cha truths
Many are bristling mad at Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III for saying that President Duterte’s term may be extended beyond 2022 and at House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for opining that the 2019 senatorial and local elections may be cancelled if the proposed Charter change (Cha-cha) to federalism succeeds. However, I think they were merely telling the truthful, if awful to some, possibilities or consequences of Cha-cha.
New, new, new! Here are more truthful possibilities. Cha-cha can revise our government from the current tripartite, centralized, presidential type to any other system. As in basketball, Cha-cha can mean new teams, new players, new referees, new uniforms, new rules, new ball game, and even a new stadium. The possibilities are legally limitless.
The new constitution need not be federal (no fire in the popular belly for it); it could simply alter the system from presidential to parliamentary and contain transitory provisions abolishing Congress, the Supreme Court and the independent constitutional offices, and creating new ones (like a parliament), cutting or extending the terms of the incumbents and authorizing the President to name new officials.
Every new constitution has transitory provisions. With a new constitution, no office would be sacred and no official would be irreplaceable. Yes, the bill of rights can be altered, civil service guarantees rescinded, and the declaration of principles revised.
SC, key to Cha-cha. The 1987 Charter says, “Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon vote of three-fourths of all its Members… [that] shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite…”
To obtain the “three-fourths” vote of Congress, the Constitution does not clearly say whether the two chambers should vote jointly as one body, or vote separately as they do in enacting laws.
The House of Representatives is expected to dance the Cha-cha enthusiastically. But, to quote Pimentel, the “thinking” Senate is something else. Swiftly swaying three-fourths (18) of its members would be near-miraculous.
The key may be to convince the Supreme Court to rule that Congress should vote jointly, not separately. Under such scenario, the opposing senators would be drowned by the deluge of House votes.
With the President’s popularity at an all-time high, ratification in a plebiscite would be a shoo-in. To hasten Cha-cha, the unpopular federalism part, as earlier said, may be set aside, in favor of just adopting the parliamentary system.
Otherwise, the administration may need Javellana vs Executive Secretary (March 31, 1973) which validated the ratification of the 1973 Constitution via the raising of hands during citizens’ assemblies, not via nationwide secret balloting.
But adhering to this precedent may hew too closely to the Marcos train that eventually crashed in a historic disaster. History need not repeat itself. If federalism cannot be sold to our people, better to abandon it and stick to what is palatable and defensible politically and historically.
Under these possibilities, the Chief Justice need not be removed via a tedious Senate trial which may be overtaken by the speedier Cha-cha express. She, along with the other “unfriendly” justices, may simply be ousted under the transitory provisions, and the “friendly” ones reappointed, or, as some critics claim, “rewarded” with new terms coterminous with the transition.
Historic pivot. The Cha-cha proponents are in a hurry because the revisions would be problematic after the 2019 midterm elections. And the President is not immortal and may not have enough time to effect his desired transitory changes during his remaining years.
In closing, let me be clear: I am not proposing or favoring a railroaded Cha-cha, especially the proposals that directly benefit the constitution makers, like term extensions. In fact, like many of our countrymen, I am not even convinced we need federalism. I am merely voicing the possibilities of Cha-cha.
Indeed, 2018 will be pivotal for our nation. Let us brace ourselves and hope the pivot will be rid of objectionable features and result in a better Philippines.
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