THE DUTERTE administration wants this nation of 105 million to make a quick shift to a federal system before the 2019 elections – but continues to hide from the people its working draft of the proposed federal constitution.
This lack of transparency is not only ridiculous; it is suspicious. President Rodrigo Duterte should level with the people if he wants them to join him in the federal regime in his mind.
The President and his operators in the captive Congress should publish the draft – they must have one — so all affected sectors can participate intelligently in the debate over a charter that might just lead to a dismembering of the republic or the dawning of autocratic rule.
With only a few days left before the convening this month of a joint session of the Congress and its phasing into a constituent assembly to revise the 1987 Constitution, the discussion still revolves around piecemeal revelations of what Duterte wants.
Based on statements of Duterte and his lieutenants, a joint session will be called this month. Converted into a constituent assembly, the body will forthwith process a draft of the proposed federal constitution for submission in a plebiscite during the May barangay elections.
The prevailing opinion is that this timetable is too tight. That the plan is still being rushed betrays an ulterior plot to cancel the 2019 midterm elections for 12 senators, almost 300 district congressmen, and thousands of local officials nationwide.
This “No-El” option is an inducement for all holdover national and local officials to play along with the convening of the constituent assembly and the quick revision of the Constitution – on the (mistaken?) belief that they would be rewarded with significant roles in the new setup.
But until the present 1987 Constitution is revised or amended and a new charter ratified by the people, that charter stands — and all officials, especially the Chief Executive, are bound by it.
By themselves, Duterte and his followers in and out of the government cannot disregard the Constitution without getting into trouble and creating a crisis. To go around this mess, he could declare a Revolutionary Government (an option his mouthpieces have hinted at lately).
This extraordinary move finds precedents in then President Ferdinand Marcos’ staging in 1972 a coup d’etat “from the center,” and in then President Cory Aquino’s scrapping in 1987 the Marcos Constitution and installing a revolutionary government.
These arbitrary disregard and revision of the Constitution could be done again by a strongman forcing his way out of a crisis, even one that is self-made. Installing a RevGov, although looking far-fetched, is still an option.
With the political opposition leaderless and in disarray, the military is the only force that can forestall the illegal installation of a RevGov or the staging of a coup. But the armed forces, together with the national police, have been spoiled and fattened by Duterte, raising doubts they would readily rise against him.
We are not sure if the Supreme Court, itself under siege, will have the moral courage to rule against constitutional transgressions. Even if the tribunal rules against abuses or an illegal power grab, it does not have the force of arms to carry out its rulings.
• Dividing an already unified nation
THE EMERGING federated setup could just lead to the dismembering of the nation under a still undefined system, sometimes also described as parliamentary.
In his public statements, Duterte has dwelled on what he said is the need to right historical wrongs, referring to the dispossession of the Moros, with whom he now claims affinity, from the Spanish colonial past to the neocolonial misadventures of the United States in the South.
His narrative is that the Moros of the Mindanao-Sulu-Palawan archipelago resisted Spanish conquest and Catholic conversion. They held on to their territory and faith — and survived even the “pacification” campaigns of latter-day American colonizers.
This attempt of Christian foreigners to subjugate them was followed by the land-grabbing by non-Muslim settlers drawn by the rich promise of Mindanao. Their influx added another variety of what Moros considered trespassers.
Duterte, son of a Bisayan settler in Davao, now claims to have Moro (also Chinese) blood from his ancestors. Oozing with fraternal concern, he has promised Moro secessionist groups a degree of autonomy if they would stop their armed defiance of the government.
While the previous Aquino administration talked peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Duterte has added the MILF’s forerunner, the Moro National Liberation Front under Nur Misuari to the peace-keeping and power-sharing equation under the federal setup he has been pursuing.
It remains to be seen if giving Muslims an autonomous region or a sub-state of their own would buy peace, and for how long. This assumes that the rest of the country agree to what looks to some like a dismembering of the country.
Publishing the draft basic law of the federated setup, and encouraging an open debate, will help clarify this important point.
It is not clear yet where Duterte is taking the nation, although it seems to be in the opposite direction taken by older federal systems elsewhere. While other countries were formed by gathering together separate states or regions under a federated union, he seems to be doing the opposite.
Duterte is seen by many skeptics as dividing an already unified nation, chopping it up again into its tribal origins as he gives back territory and residual power to the new sub-states.
In allocating territory and certain exclusive powers to the component states, Duterte will not be dealing only with the Moros, who are expected to demand that their Shariah laws be made applicable to them and not subject to review by the Supreme Court.
A footnote is that some married officials and other privileged personages who want to marry their girlfriends or collect more than one wife may find the Islamic culture in autonomous Moro states convenient ways out.
In redrawing the political map of the Philippines, Duterte may have to also accommodate political dynasties, warlords, major business interests and other elements who feel naked without their accustomed political entitlements. This may taste like a sizzling recipe for inequity and divisiveness. It is.
An example of likely political accommodation in the carving out of sub-states or federal regions could be the conceding to the Marcoses a kind of Ilocandia state in the North where the dynasty of the former dictator shall rule supreme.
There could be similar enclaves in other parts of the proposed federation that, in time, could even spin themselves off as independent states although geographically and legally part of the pre-Duterte Philippines.