The House of Representatives appears to have pulled a fast one by approving on second reading the Resolution of Both Houses No. 15 (RBH 15) proposing a draft federal Constitution to replace the 1987 Constitution and change the government to a presidential-federal setup—after only three days of plenary debates.
On Tuesday night’s voice voting, the ayes had it, drowning out progressive lawmakers who wanted to stop the Charter change express dead in its tracks by introducing amendments on the floor.
Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, chief architect of the House initiative, was quick to deflect criticism that the majority was railroading Charter change, mere days after it came to light that the legislative mill had been greased with pork barrel under a budget bill she and her acolytes had likewise shepherded in the House. Majority Leader Rolando Andaya Jr. admitted that Arroyo had directed the allocation of P60 million worth of government projects for each lawmaker in the proposed P3.8-trillion 2019 national budget, which was bogged down by last-minute insertions before it was passed by the lower chamber.
Arroyo said it was all “part of the democratic process. There was a debate, it was voted on and we sent it to [House members].” But if there was a debate on the pros and cons of the Charter change resolution, the country didn’t hear it. The bill, authored by Arroyo and 21 other allies, appears to have been sneakily calendared for discussion on October 8, and recommended for adoption “without amendments” by the committee on constitutional amendments absent any public hearings or widespread consultations. Its passage on third and final reading anytime seems a cinch.
RBH 15 is a document shot through with onerous provisions that betray the vested interests of its proponents. For one, it lifts the term limits for members of Congress, which is a brazen attempt at perpetuation in power. The very notion runs roughshod over the spirit of the law that already provides much more than ample time for anyone to make a legislative difference: two consecutive six-year terms for senators and three consecutive three-year terms for congressional representatives.
That grasping reach for uninterrupted power was still not enough for the bill’s proponents. They also struck down the constitutional ban on political dynasties. Instead of heeding the decades-long clamor to pass a law that would enable the constitutional mandate against political dynasties, lawmakers now want to get rid of it, and allow well-entrenched clans to lord it over provinces, cities and municipalities across the archipelago with even more unyielding power than they do so now.
Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, tried to make these two provisions palatable by arguing that dropping the term limits effectively moots the antidynasty provision. “Kasi ’yung antidynasty [provision] is an offspring of term limits,” he said. “’Pag tinanggal mo term limits, there is no need for antidynasty.” Anyone is welcome to make heads or tails of that nonsensical argument, but the rational conclusion would be the same: For politicians, tinkering with the Constitution is, first and foremost, a shyness-be-damned opportunity to further improve their lot.
The only concession to public indignation the lawmakers made was to restore the Vice President in the line of succession during the transition period to federalism, the glaring omission evidently a Palace-ingratiating trial balloon that got deflated early by withering criticism.
While enthusiastic about the political overhaul their bill promises to do, the lawmakers are, on the other hand, mum about the economic costs of such an enterprise. The hefty price tag, warned Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, comes close to P130 billion.
But, more than the enormous cost, the persistent push to amend the Charter defies the clear sentiments of the people. In a June 2018 Pulse Asia survey, 67 percent opposed current moves to amend the Constitution, and 62 percent said they were not in favor of federalism. That’s almost seven out of 10 Filipinos squarely against the idea. There is no popular backing for this move in any way, and the reason is obvious: When it comes to the critical task of rewriting the Constitution, the people do not trust their politicians to rise above their self-interest and work for the greater good.
RBH 15 is proving their fears right.
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