POSTSCRIPT / January 6, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Puno vs GMA draft of federal charter

THERE are two drafts of the federal charter being proposed to replace the 1987 Constitution — one written by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno and another one, a Resolution of Both Houses of Congress No. 15 (RBH-15) being pushed by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

We asked media colleague Ding Generoso, former ConCom spokesman, to compare the two drafts. His report:

While they have some similarities, the federal Constitution drafted by the Consultative Committee headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno and the RBH-15 being pushed by Speaker Arroyo are miles apart.

Both drafts retain the presidential form of government to go with a federal system. But while the Puno draft proposes significant reforms in the three branches of government and other areas of governance, the Arroyo version basically retains the existing setup save for a few amendments.

The ConCom proposes sweeping political reforms that include self-executory provisions against political dynasties and the switching of political parties or turncoatism. Not only did the RBH-15 throw away these provisions, it even deleted the provision in the 1987 charter mandating the enactment of a law prohibiting political dynasties.

The RBH-15 lifts the term limits for senators and congressmen, making them eligible for perpetual reelection. Discarding anti-dynasty provisions and term limits means unlimited terms for unlimited dynasties — they will be the only ones to rule the country till kingdom come.

Also missing in RBH-15 are the ConCom proposals to strengthen and institutionalize political parties, to reform the party-list system by replacing it with a system of proportional party representation in the Congress (which also increases their membership to 40 percent from the current 20 percent), establish a Democracy Fund where citizens can contribute funds to political parties and get tax credits, and to strengthen the people’s direct exercise of legislative power by relaxing some provisions on People’s Initiative.

The ConCom has labelled these political reforms as sine qua non to the shift to federalism, firm in its position that without them — especially the anti-dynasty provisions and term limits — a shift to federalism will only create new fiefdoms for political dynasties, exacerbate corruption, poverty and underdevelopment, and hold hostage whatever promise of change that federalism offers.

While adding an article on obligations of citizens, the RBH-15 excludes the ConCom proposal expanding the Bill of Rights by including socioeconomic and environmental rights. Among the reform provisions in the ConCom draft are those on the right to food, universal and comprehensive healthcare, decent housing, complete quality education, and livelihood and employment opportunities.

In the face of the damage to the ecosystem that has resulted in disasters and calamities, the ConCom included in the Bill of Rights environmental and ecological rights – including the right of the people to be protected from and seek compensation for damage to their environment and to stop destructive or potentially damaging project or business through the courts by invoking the writ of kalikasan.

No changes in the judiciary were proposed in the RBH-15, as against Puno’s proposal to speed up the final resolution of cases by creating specialized high courts to decide certain cases that are now under the domain of the Supreme Court.

The ConCom draft proposes a Federal Constitutional Court to have jurisdiction over questions of constitutionality and violations of the Bill of Rights. The Concom proposal also changes the impeachment system by making the proposed Constitutional Court as the impeachment court (replacing the Senate) but retaining the power of Congress to investigate and prosecute impeachment complaints.

The ConCom proposes a Federal Administrative Court to resolve with finality all administrative cases and decisions of quasi-judicial bodies, and a Federal Electoral Court to resolve all electoral contests involving election of the President, Vice President and Members of Congress (thereby abolishing the Presidential, Senate and House electoral tribunals), as well as resolve appeals on electoral contests of other elective officials.

As to federalism, RBH-15 consolidates congressional power in a still unitary system — not in a federal system as it purports to do.

In contrast to the ConCom draft that establishes 18 federated regions whose boundaries are defined in an ordinance appended to the charter, the RBH-15 merely empowers the Congress to later on approve or disapprove applications by a province or a group of contiguous provinces, or cities and municipalities to form a federal state.

The ConCom draft provides a system of tax collection for what it calls “federated regions” (not states) and the sharing of revenues between the federal or national government and the regions.  The ConCom draft transfers to the regions the collection of an initial set of 12 taxes and fees such as vehicle registration fees, road user’s tax, donor’s tax, documentary stamp tax, and estate tax. It also provides for a 50-50 sharing of the total revenues derived from VAT, income and excise taxes, and customs duties — which account for two-thirds of national government revenues each year.

Under the RBH-15, federalism is merely an option that provinces may pursue. It provides that a federal state may be created in any part of the country upon petition by a province or by a group of contiguous, compact and adjacent provinces, highly urbanized and component cities and municipalities in highly urbanized areas and subject to approval in a plebiscite.

After a petition is filed, Congress enacts an organic law for the applicant-province or provinces, which will define its organization, powers, sources of revenue and other terms. There is no guarantee that any of the “federal states” created will survive.

In other words, the Congress under the RBH-5 will have the power to decide whether or not the setup becomes federal, which parts of the country will be federal and which will not be.

The RBH-15 could produce a mongrel system with provinces and cities that have formed “federal states” and those that remain under the national government. Considering the record of the Congress — including its failure to pass the anti-dynasty and freedom-of-information bills after more than one generation of its existence — it is doubtful if federalism as the Congress contemplates in its proposed charter will take place.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 6, 2019)

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