POSTSCRIPT / January 11, 2018 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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We’re a happy lot. So why Cha-Cha?

THEY tell us that we Filipinos are the world’s third happiest people, that 96 percent of us see a better year ahead, that President Rodrigo Duterte enjoys an 80-percent approval and trust rating.

So, why delete the heavenly scenario on the screen by pushing the Reset button?

Resetting means revising the Constitution, not just amending some sections, cutting up the country and rearranging its new autonomous parts, cancelling the 2019 elections so all officials from the President down will stay on regardless of their performance or prostitution of their office.

The seeming contradiction between contentment and change has prompted a citizen to post this supposed dialogue on Twitter yesterday:

BarberoKung 80% sa tao masaya na, bakit mag-ChaCha pa at papalitan anggov’t system?
ManicuristaSiguro baka sakaling tataas pa sa 81% kayong mga masasaya.
BarberoHoy! Di ako masaya!

(Translation: The barber is asking why the need for changing the system when 80 percent of Filipinos are already happy, if surveys are to be believed.)

In a few days, close to 300 congressmen will be joined by 24 senators in a “Constituent Assembly” (or Con-Ass, a most descriptive tag) to edit a draft of a revised Constitution that will serve as the basic law for a new federal system of government.

Nobody is saying where that masterpiece of a draft came from. It might be too much to presume it evolved solely in the mind of the President. All that has been said is that a technical group will assist the Con-Ass as to the draft’s form and substance.

The senators, outnumbered 12-to-1 by the congressmen, have been told not to worry about being left out in the confusion. They have been assured that in the transition from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature, they will be allowed to stay until the new setup is firmly in place.

“Firmly in place” probably refers to that stage when the proposed federal Constitution has been ratified in a plebiscite (planned in May) and the elected members of the new legislature have been sworn in (with some of the senators making it).

If it is any consolation to the senators, both chambers of the Congress will in effect be abolished after they perform their ritual hara-kiri, upon their replacement by the incoming members of the new Assembly, or Parliament, or Batasan, or whatever collar the old tired dog will be made to wear.

We are tempted to refer to an old dog with a new collar, because Philippine politics and government have long been dominated by entrenched political dynasties, the economic elite, and local lords (e.g., warlords, jueteng lords and drug lords) who dictate who run the government.

Such pressure groups are expected to continue to reign supreme under a new system, whatever label the setup sports. This explains the recurring issue over the folly and futility of changing the system without changing the men running it. Ref:

The broad lines we’re talking about were merely derived from the scant details drawn from sound bites in Malacañang and the blabber in its annex, the House of Representatives. These are still speculative – partly because the President himself changes his statements now and then.

• Why not amend the Charter in stages?

THIS ambitious scheme embracing Charter Change, cancelling of the 2019 elections, and the redrawing of the Philippine political map is made more controversial by the suggested lifting of the term limit of the President (in the transition), a situation that could give rise to a revolutionary government.

By “revolutionary” we simply mean that that open-ended “transition” is likely not to follow a formally defined — and strictly enforced — process.

At no point beforeduring and after the transition should any action or process be not governed by a/any Constitution. There should not be any constitutional gap at all any time.

This raises the question of what role the beleaguered Supreme Court plays in the Cha-Cha process. It is not fair to say, in answer, that the high tribunal’s overriding participation or involvement may depend on what President Duterte would allow, but we already hear some quarters saying this.

We can avoid grappling with these weighty issues — whose mishandling could spark a crisis — if the administration lowers its sights.

Rather than revising the Constitution, or totally scrapping and replacing it, is the President willing to slow down and do the big job in stages?

Instead of reinventing the Philippines in one herculean effort under a plan whose details he has not even made known until this late date, would Duterte consider just amending selected sections of the 1987 Constitution through a Constitutional Convention?

Revising the three-decade-old charter via a Constituent Assembly is just one of several modes of updating (or upending) the Constitution. We can amend it in phases, like maybe starting with the economic provisions affecting the wellbeing of the people.

We mention the economic provisions not to propose that they be reviewed first, but just to suggest that together we can work on priorities to guide us in the gradual rewriting of the Constitution.

Without saying the United States is a model (it is not), we point out that the present text of the US charter contains amendments introduced at certain chapters of its history to respond to issues of the time. Can we not similarly introduce amendments in stages – instead of forcing a revision in one blow?

Why the big, disruptive, hurry? What’s the real agenda?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 11, 2018)

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