Draft charter for whom?
In a move that rivaled the stealth with which the remains of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos were buried in the heroes’ cemetery, the House of Representatives swiftly passed last week the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) of Congress No. 15, otherwise known as the draft federal constitution.
Despite vigorous objections from some quarters, and after only three session days of plenary debates, the House approved on third and final reading its controversial draft that would replace the 1987 Constitution and lead to a shift to federalism.
Naturally, there are serious questions about its intent. As former solicitor general Florin Hilbay noted, the move to amend the 1987 Constitution is aimed at paving the way, not for federalism, but for the lifting of term limits on lawmakers and the abolition of the provisions against political dynasties.
Long story short, it’s another crude attempt by politicians to hold on to power. And it doesn’t help that its principal author is Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who can’t seem to have enough of public office, starting from being vice president in 1998, assuming the presidency from the disgraced Joseph Estrada, running for president despite an earlier avowal to the contrary, and, after that term, sliding down to a seat in the House.
So for whom is this proposed charter? Whose interest were the House members serving when they passed with unseemly haste a draft that toys with the Philippines’ democratic processes as well as its patrimony and resources?
Consider how the draft charter allows foreign ownership of public utilities, educational institutions and the media, and imagine how the case of the third telco — a consortium that includes China — could very well apply to transport facilities and electric and water utilities, as well as schools and radio-TV networks.
With President Duterte so cozy with China that hundreds of thousands of undocumented Chinese have found their way to offshore gambling operations here, the possibility of the Philippines being taken over by moneyed foreign governments is hardly far-fetched.
Think of what has been lost in the Spratlys, indeed in the West Philippine Sea. The draft charter would amount to legitimizing bullying tactics.
There is also the matter of term extensions for current officials until 2022, which means that next year’s elections could possibly be scuttled, depriving the people of the chance to elect officials whom they believe would do better than the incumbents.
At the same time, postponing the 2019 elections would allow wily politicians to craft more laws to their advantage, with little opposition from the administration-dominated Congress.
As shown in the hasty approval of the draft federal charter, it takes only three legislative sessions to tear up the painstaking process of building a democracy, pointed out Quezon City Rep. Kit Belmonte, who voted against RBH 15.
Even Rep. Lito Atienza, a staunch Arroyo ally, decried the secretive manner with which the draft was passed: “The people’s full involvement and knowledge of what they’re doing and what they want for the future should have been considered in this particular issue.”
The draft also has “one fatal omission,” according to former chief justice Reynato Puno, who chaired the Consultative Committee on Charter Change. It failed to mention the Bangsamoro and Cordillera regions. “Unless we are able to satisfy these identity-based demands, we’ll always be hounded by this peace and order problem. The worst-case scenario is [these two regions] may even separate from us,” he warned.
The hasty passage of the proposed federal constitution has raised eyebrows as well because of the surveys showing that federalism and charter change are bottom-dwellers among the current concerns of most Filipinos. (Inflation and high prices, the lack of jobs and peace and order are their more pressing concerns, survey respondents said.)
With even proponents of federalism describing the draft charter as “garbage,” it is up to the Senate to junk it before it can do harm.
Citizens should speak out against it — loudly and continuously on all platforms, including social media. Voters can do their part by choosing wisely in the 2019 polls, electing those who can hold their own despite pressures and enticements from mercenary politicos.
It bears reminding that a Duterte majority could very well mean the approval of the draft charter, and the unraveling of the democratic process as we know it.
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