Why the rush?
She does not intend to seek another post when her term as congresswoman ends midyear, Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said in January when asked about her high-visibility outings marked by gift-giving (in Sasmuan in her native Pampanga) and distribution of land titles (in Tondo, Manila).
“I’m just after winning your hearts so you’ll remember me even after I have stepped down,” she told reporters.
That suspicion was immediately roused then regarding Arroyo’s intentions was nothing surprising. She has, after all, managed to stay in power against formidable odds.
She has also executed swift turnarounds, as when she went ahead and sought a fresh term as president mere months after solemnly promising that she wouldn’t, or, more dramatically, when she showed up at the House of Representatives in June 2016 on her feet, in full makeup and fresh coif — the Supreme Court having thrown out evidence lodged against her in connection with a plunder case — when for years of hospital arrest she had been wheelchair-bound and generally behaved as though she were practically at death’s door.
Now, less than two weeks before Congress adjourns, Arroyo has formally requested the Senate to act on the House resolution seeking amendments to the 1987 Constitution, which includes a draft federal Charter with such controversial features as the lifting of term limits on lawmakers and the abolition of the antidynasty provision.
In a letter she sent last week to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, she pointed out that the Resolution of both Houses of Congress (RBH) No. 15, authored by herself and 21 other lawmakers, was among President Duterte’s priority measures approved by the House and now pending in the upper chamber.
She said she and other members of the House “await the action of the Senate and stand ready to adopt the Senate version in the interest of speedy legislation.”
That such a significant change in the nation’s political life requires exhaustive deliberations and consultations appears lost on Arroyo, or, more to the point, seems of no import to her.
She exhibited the same obliviousness in December when she strongly advocated Charter change to replace the presidential with a federal form of government despite pushback from a number of senators, the opposition and even her own allies in the House.
RBH 15 was approved through voice voting (224-22, with three abstentions) on third and final reading on Dec. 11, 2018. The draft Charter ignored the recommendations of the consultative committee assigned by the President to propose constitutional amendments preparatory to the switch to the federal system.
Critics of the measure warned that it might serve as a vehicle to install Arroyo as prime minister in a federal setup. The draft Charter also held a provision removing Vice President Leni Robredo as Mr. Duterte’s constitutional successor during the period of transition to the federal system, but this drew such loud protests that Arroyo was forced to instruct Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, to delete it.
Surveys have shown that a majority of Filipinos do not favor a switch to federalism at this point. According to a Pulse Asia survey conducted in June 2018, or about the time Mr. Duterte’s consultative committee was beginning its work, 69 percent of Filipinos knew little to nothing about federalism.
Indeed, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a TV interview last week that the Philippines was not yet ready for a federal form of government. He said this was also the stance of the finance and budget secretaries.
Pernia also said federalism was not considered when the Philippine Development Plan for 2017-2022 was crafted. It would be better for the administration, he said, to focus its energies now on doing what is necessary to develop the regions, especially those lagging behind.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza, an Arroyo ally who voted against RBH 15 in December, memorably voiced the sentiment of many that federalism was not the solution to the nation’s problems.
“There’s absolutely no reason to rush this very important measure that will impact all of us,” he said. “Let us not be like blind cows being stampeded over a cliff.”
Atienza’s stance was valid then and remains so now. If it’s true that Arroyo just wants to win hearts as she (ostensibly) heads into the sunset, she should take heed. Enough already. Let the 18th Congress, such as it is, earn its keep.
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