The next fight: Cha-cha
The leaders of both chambers of Congress have signaled that they are about to move into the Cha-cha (Charter change) phase of this administration’s national development plan. The debate being framed in this regard is a constitutional convention (Con-con) versus a constituent assembly (Con-ass).
I expect this debate to be spirited, but I hope it will also be enlightening for all Filipinos. However, let us not forget that we still need to ask the most important question of all: What are the aspects of the 1987 Constitution that need to be revised, or removed altogether? One issue that immediately comes to mind is the necessity of local term limits.
The rationale for the imposition of a specific time frame for elected office was best expressed by a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission. Edmundo G. Garcia made the following argument during the debates on this subject:
“I know that some of us here have been in politics for a long time and I do not wish to offend them. But I simply think that there should be no special caste of professional politicians. It should not be a lifetime profession or a career, but rather an opportunity for public service to be broadened to as great a number of people and there should be no effort to accumulate power. Accumulation of power, at one time, really brings about the desire to accumulate more, and rather than providing a structure or a setup which strengthens this trend, the alternative must be to provide structural safeguards for this kind of practice. Therefore, I would not subscribe to more than one reelection for Senators and more than two reelections for Representatives or local officials.” (See Journal Record of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, Volume 2, July 24, 1986, p219.)
Obviously, the rule on term limits was conceived as a “safeguard” against the appetite of local elected officials to accumulate political power during (and even beyond) their term in office. It was envisioned as a mechanism to prevent the creation of a “special caste of professional politicians,” or in current parlance, political dynasties.
Unfortunately, traditional politicians have found a way to beat the 3-term limit by employing the revolving-door scheme among family members. Concomitantly, they have also expanded the reach of their political power by establishing a public governance syndicate described by the respected Mindanao civil society activist Guiamel Alim as a “clan-inclusive government.” Needless to say, local term limits must be a major consideration in the projected constitutional reform project.
The truth is, we need to ask more probing questions about the text of the 1987 Constitution. And as I have written elsewhere, I think it would be wise for the Duterte administration to facilitate this constitutional analysis through a nationwide public-consultation process.
We must bear in mind that constitutional revision or Cha-cha, or whatever it may be called, is fundamentally a nation-rebuilding effort. Therefore, Filipinos must be prepared to present intelligent and coherent proposals as to what the new constitution should contain regardless if the mode chosen is Con-con or Con-ass.
Moreover, we also must recognize that save for a few proven patriots, both chambers of Congress have shown their potential to be a rubber-stamp of the administration. And worse, the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Marcos-burial case has revealed the true loyalties of this once noble institution.
It is thus imperative that Filipinos be extensively involved in the drafting process and intently monitor the drafting body, be it a Con-con or a Con-ass.
For if Cha-Cha does happen, then we must ensure that this time, we will make a better Philippines for all Filipinos, and not just a few.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.
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