As I write this, the Consultative Committee has unanimously approved the draft of the new Charter allowing Federalism “without any objection” (based on a 03 July report by Mike Navallo of ABS-CBN News). The 22-member ConCom is headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno. Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. moved for the approval of the new Charter. I was told it was for the President’s eyes only.
Many Filipinos believe, as I do, that this attempt to change some provisions of the Constitution could very well be the last nail on the coffin of democracy in this country. As I wrote on a previous note, my earlier interviews with House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco revealed a three-year-plan to pull this off. Anything in excess of this could prove detrimental to their plans.
However, it would be wrong to presume I am not for change. I am for change—even for charter change. I am in favor of finding new ways to improve governance and the equal distribution of government services. I am for advancing the cause of reforms, and the refining of provisions in the Charter that are problematic and have overstayed their welcome.
In fact, count me in as someone who would, at a drop of a hat, support Federalism if such a bold move will assure our people even a semblance of socioeconomic stability and security in the region. That is the whole rationale behind the Philippines Graphic’s series of interviews with mayors: to know how people from the ground view the changes. With enough information in our hands, soon we will be publishing our findings.
So, why am I against Charter change? First, consider the idea being spread by the current administration: that the 1987 Constitution is flawed, thus needing change. I don’t believe that one bit. From the administration of Cory Aquino where the 1987 Constitution began, can we really make the claim that the Aquino government and all the administrations that followed have, in full measure, implemented the Constitution?
You must be thinking I’m nuts. Allow me to explain. Let’s take the issue of corruption in high places. According to the Commission on Audit (COA), the congressional “pork barrel” was revived shortly after EDSA 1. It was in the form of the Mindanao Development Fund and the Visayas Development Fund. This funding mechanism was created with lump-sum appropriations of 240 million and P480 million for 1989, respectively. This led the Countrywide Development Fund to fund local infrastructure and community-based projects to the tune of P2.3 billion (https://www.coa.gov.ph/phocadownload/userupload/ABC-Help/Jurisprudence_B/PoMLE.htm).
Now, let’s not kid ourselves anymore than we have to. The “pork barrel,” since its creation, has been a milking cow” of most politicians, so much so that in most administrations we hear news of unfinished government projects due to corruption by high-profile officials, with no less Presidents leading the pack.
Under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the COA pegged a P101.82-billion worth of anomalies, which based on a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, included “more than 4,000 cases of unauthorized expenses, unaccounted for cash advances, uncollected duties, fictitious claims, missing assets, or abandoned projects (https://newsinfo.inquirer.net/284120/philippines-lost-p101-82b-to-anomalies-under-arroyo-coa#xzz5KHVPi3gJ).
Former Pres. Joseph Estrada, who was charged with plunder, had been accused of receiving “P545-million protection money from jueteng operators; diverting P130-million tobacco excise tax share of Ilocos Sur; receiving P189.7-million kickback from Belle Corp. for GSIS, SSS purchase of P1.8-billion worth of shares of stocks and maintaining P3.23-billion ‘Jose Velarde’ account with Equitable-PCIBank Binondo, Manila branch (https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/60117/erap-guilty-of-plunder-sentenced-to-reclusion-perpetua/story/).
These are but a handful of myriad incidences of plunder which left the country unable to function properly. Hence it is not so much the system that is flawed but the people behind the system.
And this is my second reason for not agreeing to Duterte’s Charter change and Federalism: consider the people behind the effort.
In the last few weeks, Filipinos have stood witness to some of the most inhumane acts a ‘creeping dictatorship’ could inflict on its people: the illegal mass arrest of loiterers including children as young as five, according to reports; violent assaults against NurtiAsia and Middleby workers who staged a sit-down strike; the brazen murders of three Catholic priests, two mayors, and a lawyer from Cebu; the continuing killings of suspected drug users nearly 95% of whom belong to the poorest of the poor; unlawful detention of three Methodist missionaries; the inclusion of cyber-libel as an amendment to the Human Securities Act (anti-terror laws) that will surely put at risk the country’s right to freedom of speech and expression; expand government’s surveillance powers to include tapping, interception and recording of conversations based only on mere suspicion; the steady exoneration of bigtime drug lords; and a level of corruption that is unprecedented in Philippine history, as per the Commission on Audit’s investigations.
Based on reports by Rappler.com, 14 mayors and vice mayors had fallen victim to assassinations since Duterte assumed power in the middle of 2016.
Running along the fringes, often unnoticed, is the growing incursion of the People’s Republic of China on the disputed islands located at the West Philippine Sea, and the build-up of military arsenal there. There’s also the loan strategy in the billions of dollars that could force the Philippine government to secede ownership of the territories to China should payment be demanded.
Coming in the heels of all this is Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address to be delivered in the middle of July. Lingering questions on impunity and the sale of the country’s sovereignty might compel him and his agencies to spew one lie after the other, something I’d expect from a government which does not put a premium on facts.
After having said all this, are we still willing to give the Duterte administration free rein over the provisions of the 1987 Constitution just like that? If these supposed leaders brazenly disavow our current Constitution, what is stopping them from including in the new Charter provisions that would guarantee their dictatorial aspirations?
It is the most dangerous of illusions to believe outright that change is good without considering the greed and hubris of the people behind it. G