Philippine Senators Vow to Fight Charter Change

180718-PH-lawmakers-1000.jpg Senate President Aquilino Pimentel (left) and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez chat during deliberations to extend martial law in the southern Philippines, at the session hall of the House of Representatives in Manila, Dec. 13, 2017.

Philippine senators promised Wednesday to block proposals in Congress to change the country’s constitution and replace the current presidential form of government with a federal one.

The proposal, backed by President Rodrigo Duterte, aims to devolve powers of the central government in Manila to federal states, but there are widespread fears in the country that politicians could exploit any changes to the 1987 constitution to extend term limits.

The constitution specifically allows only a single, six-year term for a president to guard against the repetition of a dictatorship similar to that of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Southeast Asian country with an iron fist for two decades.

“I doubt that any senator, opposition or administration, will allow a bastardization of the Constitutionally-mandated process,” according to Sen. Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino, one of those lawmakers who oppose the move.

Duterte is to deliver his second State of the Nation Address before Congress next week, and some worry that the president could use the joint session to convene a constituent assembly in a sudden bid to revise the charter, Aquino said.

Both houses of Congress – the Senate and the House of Representatives – are likely to convene into a constituent assembly to introduce a charter change, though that would need a three-fourths vote of all members and could take time.

Both have different interpretations of how to vote, whether jointly or separately.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she doubted that the plan to introduce federalism was feasible.

“Aside from the massive democratic deficit President Duterte’s version of federalism suffers from, I am worried that his federalist vision is not even economically viable and practical in the first place,” she said.

“Instead of redistributing wealth and dispersing economic development to the regions, President Duterte’s federalism might only make the regions poorer and their economies weaker,” Hontiveros said.

She said a study to assess Philippine provinces’ readiness for federalism showed that only five of the 16 federated regions, which have been proposed for creation, were relatively prepared.

Hontiveros noted that even the government’s own budget minister had earlier expressed worries that not all the regions were ready for a sudden shift to federalism that, she argued, could be costly.

Hontiveros called on government not to railroad the country’s shift to federalism, saying there were many issues that needed to be deliberated and addressed first.

“It’s bad enough that the Duterte government is planning to employ undemocratic processes such as a Senate-less constituent assembly to change our constitution,” she said. “Now, the citizens must also contend with the bad economics of President Duterte’s federalism.”

Meanwhile, the No to Charter Change Coalition, a broad grouping led by retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, has been created to raise public awareness and widen the public opposition to charter change.

Davide, one of the framers of the 1987 constitution, called charter change “a real fatal experiment” aimed at weakening democracy in the country.

“The biggest flaw here would be that what is created is a weak democracy with ingredients of totalitarian and fascism,” Davide warned Wednesday.

A group earlier commissioned by Duterte to draft a proposed federal constitution submitted its report and recommendations early this month.


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