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Editorial

Self-serving priorities

/ 05:08 AM October 10, 2018

While no one was looking, the House of Representatives calendared for discussion on Oct. 8 the newly minted and committee-approved Resolution of Both Houses No. 15, which proposes a draft federal constitution to replace the 1987 Constitution and change the government to a presidential-federal setup.

Whose draft was this, when even Malacañang had earlier declared it was setting aside for now the push for federalism and Charter change to focus on inflation and the unstable economy?

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The draft was the handiwork of Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and 21 other allies.

There was no quorum, so the resolution was not formally taken up. Not a few of the representatives who were on the floor were left perplexed that such a resolution had even been filed, let alone summarily recommended for adoption “without amendments” by the committee on constitutional amendments, sans public hearings or widespread consultations.

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Such is the troubling nature of the resolution, which seems to have been surreptitiously hammered into shape in the private meeting rooms of Arroyo and her coterie, away from the prying eyes of the public, and then filed and adopted at a time when legislators’ attention was focused primarily on finalizing the General Appropriations Act for 2019 and tackling measures that would put a damper on the spiking prices of basic commodities.

But more mortifying than how it’s been put together is what the document contains, such as:

No 2019 elections. Its proposed transitory provisions state that incumbents in all branches of government will function during the transition “until all their successors are elected or appointed,” or until 2022 when the first national and local elections under the new constitution will be held. If approved, this effectively scraps elections in 2019, as the government transitions to a new constitution that provides for the creation of federated states.

Vice President out of succession. The Vice President is now removed from the constitutional order of succession. “In case a vacancy arises by reason of removal, resignation, permanent incapacity, or death of the incumbent President, the Senate President shall act as President until a President shall have been chosen and qualified,” it says.

No term limits. There will be no more term limits on members of the legislature, a key provision in the 1987 Constitution meant to widen the political base and prevent the same people from occupying their positions in perpetuity. Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said the term limits — currently at three consecutive three-year terms for the House and two six-year terms for the Senate — only hamper the “opportunity for lawmakers to shine.”

No antipolitical dynasty provision. At least the draft federal charter submitted by the constitutional commission formed by President Duterte deigned to nod to this important, if largely unimplemented, provision in the 1987 Constitution. Arroyo’s pet draft goes completely silent on the issues of political dynasties and turncoatism.

Even as the nation grapples with widespread economic pain, Arroyo et al., it appears, would rather work on such self-serving priorities — ramming through a new constitution that would skew the system even more to allow them to feather their nests unhampered.

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Philippine politics is squalid enough as it is, but the House’s latest ploy is obscene in light not only of gut-level economic problems requiring attention, but also survey after survey showing that majority of the Filipino people do not want the 1987 Constitution tinkered with at this time, and certainly not in the vested way the governing clique is going about it.

Pulse Asia’s September 2018 Nationwide Survey on Urgent National Concerns, for instance, shows that what the citizenry is “most concerned” with are economic matters; 3 of 5 Filipinos say inflation “is an issue that the Duterte administration must immediately address,” followed by wages and jobs.

Tellingly, Malacañang’s perceived failings on this front have led to Mr. Duterte’s trust and approval ratings taking a tumble, indicating that people are restless, hungry and angry.

The dismal bottom-dweller in that survey, unchanged from previous ones? Charter change.

But here are the House’s top leaders still gnawing at it. As Akbayan Youth’s Justine Balane precisely pointed out, “The least trusted official of the country [Gloria Macapagal Arroyo] is pushing for the least issue of concern to Filipinos [Charter change]. Bagay (It figures).”

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TAGS: charter change, draft federal constitution, federalism, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Inquirer editorial
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