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What is at stake in these elections

The May 13 elections are perhaps the most dangerous in our postwar history in terms of the possible outcome.

If the administration succeeds in putting in place its candidates to the Senate, it will have a supermajority — 16 +1 — to ram down our throats the following scenario:

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A Senate controlled by the President can be easily persuaded, along with the now pliant Congress, to convert itself into a constituent assembly that will make changes in our Constitution. It is this bunch of minions — not a constitutional convention whose members will be chosen by the people — who will decide on the proposed amendments as drafted in a bill now pending before the Senate.

The draft Charter, as devised by an alliance in the Lower House led by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, will move the country toward federalism and a parliamentary form of government, and has among its features the following dangerous provisions: (1) unlimited terms for senators, congressmen and local officials; (2) removal of the antidynasty provision in the present Constitution; (3) allowing foreign access to ownership of media and other forms of public telecommunications; and (4) allowing 100-percent foreign ownership of our land, natural resources and other patrimonial assets instead of the constitutional limit of 40 percent.

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Federalism, with its promise of decentralization and local autonomy, sounds good to those who think it will end the hegemony of “imperial Manila.” The reality on the ground — based on its present precursor, the supposed devolution of national governance through the local government units — points to the opposite direction: the tighter grip of the central government by the simple exercise of the power to release or withhold the internal revenue allotments of local officials.

Besides adding new layers of bureaucracy, federalism will further narrow local politics into a playing field dominated by political dynasties. With the lifting of term limits and the removal of the ban against dynasties, the present Congress — 80 percent made up of entrenched political families — will forever rule the provinces, along with their collateral relatives.

Federalism is supposed to diffuse power. But when power is concentrated into a single group of people, like a political clan, it also tends to corrupt, as with a strongman who wields absolute power.

Most disturbing is the threat of a foreign power, particularly China, owning our media companies and our very patrimony.

Already, the battle for our hearts and minds as a people is now being waged by trolls manning the shadowy world of fake news circulating on social media. What will it be like when the Chinese Politburo, seasoned by its vast experience in espionage and intelligence work both in foreign lands and among its own nationals, decides to aim its propaganda machine at us?

Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio has warned about debt traps like the Chico River Irrigation Loan Agreement that has been entered into by the President. As with Sri Lanka or Kazakhstan, countries that have been forced into surrendering precious patrimonial assets, we are in danger of losing the oil-rich Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea in the event we fail to pay this and other such loans, the exact terms of which are shrouded in secrecy, or at best nebulous terms.

The Senate is the only remaining institution not yet fully in the pocket of this President, whose obsequious behavior in relation to China borders on treason. We need an independent Senate that will muster the gumption to stand up against any attempt to make changes in the Constitution that will tend to give away our hard-won rights in the South China Sea, or further tighten the stranglehold of dynasties in our local politics, or do away with basic due process and the rule of law.

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None of the candidates bandied about as forerunners in the surveys are likely to buck the will of the sitting President. The ones likely to do so are all on the other side of the political divide—Alejano, Aquino, Diokno, Gutoc, Hilbay, Macalintal, Roxas, Tañada and Colmenares.

This is why I am voting for them. These midterm elections are not, at bottom, just a referendum on the policies and dubious populism of the President. What is truly at stake is the destiny of this nation as a socially just and sovereign state.

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Melba Padilla Maggay, PhD, is president of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.

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TAGS: 2019 electionsw, Inquirer Commentary, Melba Padilla Maggay
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