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Charter change: Open discussion needed for political reform

The draft constitution for setting up a federal republic in the Philippines was not written overnight.

This was the message of Ding Generoso, spokesperson of the Consultative Committee, during a recent broadcast of Deretsuhan sa Graphic, the Philippine Graphic’s radio program, which is aired every Saturday on DWIZ from 1 pm to 2 pm.

The Consultative Committee, popularly known as Concom, was the body mandated by President Rodrigo Duterte through an executive order to come up with a draft for a new federal constitution.

This draft was a suggestion, essentially a proposal that can be used as a possible basis or foundation for a new Constitution, Generoso explained.

Coming up with that draft wasn’t easy.

“The Concom’s meetings took place from Mondays to Fridays,” he recalled. “The meetings sometimes extended to 7 or 8 in the evening. It was rare for us to end a work day at 5 pm. Friday was the day the Concom members set aside to write their proposals and conduct their research with their technical staff.”

                            Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno

For those in the staff of the head of the Consultative Committee, who was former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the task was even harder.

According to Generoso, their workweek included weekends and even holidays because they had to meet a deadline.

He explained that under the Executive Order signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, the Consultative Committee was given six months to come up with a draft for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines.

“We had an informal ConCom meeting on Feb. 8 to learn its mandate and the possible work timeline,” Generos said. “Since the President’s State of the Nation Address was July 23, there was an informal consensus that the Concom should come up with a working draft before that date.”

Generoso said that the suggestion was intended to give the President the option of deciding whether or not to include the draft Constitution in his state of the nation address.

However, what was originally intended as simply as an informal suggestion became a firm deadline.

This happened after the informal meeting. It involved former senator Nene Pimentel, one of the leading members of the Concom and author of the Local Government Code.

“After the Concom’s informal meeting, reporters interviewed Senator Nene,” Generoso narrated. “He told them that President Duterte would receive the draft charter by July 9.”

“At that moment, that date became our target date,” Generoso added. “And we worked hard to meet that deadline.”

Generoso explained that didn’t meant the Concom was forced to do a rushed job.

“If you look at the meetings, our discussions and the documents we obtained, we considered a wide range of issues in drafting that proposed Constitution,” he pointed out.

POLITICAL DYNASTIES

Included in those wide range of issues was the existence of political dynasties.

Under the present Constitution, the ban on political dynasties was contained in a transitory provision. This meant that it was up to Congress to make this constitutional ban a reality with an implementing law.

Since 1987 when the present Constitution was ratified, Congress has failed to pass the necessary law against political dynasties.

This was a reality that the Concom faced head on. In the Concom’s draft, a definite provision governing political dynasties was included.

“The Concom’s intent was to level the playing field,” Generoso said. “The political dynasty already controls so many positions. If we let them be, the ordinary citizen who would want to run against them won’t stand a chance.”

“In fact, former CJ Puno emphasized that if the anti-political dynasty provision was rejected, he would withdraw his support for the proposed Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines, Generoso added. “That was among the prerequisites demanded by the former Chief Justice.”

According to the Concom spokesperson, the former chief magistrate believed that in order to have a stable and working federal system of government, a fundamental reform was needed in the way politics was practiced in the country.

“If there was no reform in the country’s political system, the campaign for a federal government shouldn’t push through,” Generoso emphasized. “That was a clear position taken by the former CJ and the ConCom.”

“That’s why if we look at the timeline of how the proposed charter was drafted, the anti-dynasty provision was the second issue taken up,” the spokesperson said. “It took us three-and-a-half days to come up with this provision.”

“The point was if we didn’t have a firm provision against political dynasties, they will still end up controlling the new regional governments,” he explained. “That would mean that the old political practices remained in place despite changing the government into a federal system. That’s why there was a need to go after political dynasties.”

POLITICAL PARTIES

Generoso then pointed out that the second fundamental reform in the Concom’s draft was designed against party switching.

“This would encourage the setting up of real political parties,” he explained.  “We’ve seen this in every election after the EDSA Revolution. Those belonging to the defeated parties jump at the chance to join the winning political party.”

It was system that encouraged the existence of political dynasties instead of political parties.

Generoso said that real political parties would allow members to choose who among them can run for different public offices.

“Platforms and qualifications are presented and judged and those deemed with the best platforms are given a chance to run for office. Candidates are vetted before they can run for in an election. That’s how a political party should work,” he explained.

“Political parties run on platforms of governance based generally on their ideologies,” he added. “Under a political dynasty, people run based on who they are and which family they’re from.”

SCRAPPING DISTRICT ALLOCATIONS

Another reform that could take place if their proposal was adopted was the scrapping of district allocations.

It was explained that such allocations, based on congressional districts, tend to lead to uneven developments.

Generoso acknowledge that there had been instances where one district in a province had a good system of paved streets that abruptly transitioned to potholed roads in the next district.

According to the Concom spokesperson, under their proposed federal government, such a thing wouldn’t take place because it would be the regional government that will be responsible for infrastructure and road development.

“It would be the regional government who will receive and allocate the funding,” he said. “The congressman would no longer have a say on how such funds would be used.”

He explained that the development would focus on region first, then province, then cities, down to the municipalities. It will not be based on congressional districts, he reiterated.

TAXATION REFORM

Generoso said the bulk of the taxes will still be collected by the federal government with a 50/50 split between the federal government and the regional governments.

But the proposed charter still has provision that allowed Congress, at the proper time and when necessary, to adjust this.

One of those reforms eyed by the Concom was aimed at the Value Added Tax system.

“Under the present form of government, VAT is imposed under a uniform rate of 12% all over the country,” Generoso said. “This was deemed unfair because those in Tawi-Tawi where the minimum wage is just 280 pesos daily had to pay the same VAT rate for a can of sardines as those in Metro Manila, where the minimum wage was 520 pesos a day.”

That was unfair, Generoso emphasized. But it’s not an easy fix because data showed that 80% of the national VAT was collected from Metro Manila and the Calabarzon Region. There was a lot of tweaking to do.

And a lot of tweaking meant that there was a need for further discussions.

OPEN DISCUSSION

That was why Filipinos should discuss the issues covered by the proposed charter and new form of government.

By discussing the matter openly, more folk can be given the chance of understanding the pros and cons of the proposed changes.

As acknowledged by Generoso, the draft Constitution for a Federal Republic of the Philippines has not been set in stone.

What the Concom has come up with was essentially a suggestion. Just a suggestion, but still it was a learned suggestion.

An open discussion of this matter would allow others to come up with suggestions to improve the Concom’s proposal. Such a discussion would also open the possibility that a charter change was not necessary, that enough changes in the national laws could suffice to start reforms.

All these were possibilities based on suggestions and information gathered by the Concom. It definitely was not the final say on the matter.

According to Generoso, the point was that this draft constitution could be used as a starting point for an open discussion on what reforms were really needed in the country’s political system.

HISTORICAL RECORD

John Ray Ramos, a historian and heritage conservation advocate, acknowledged this point of view.

In another broadcast of Deretsuhan sa Grapic, Ramos said that the Philippine historical record showed that Filipinos have went through about half-a-dozen constitutions in its 120-year history as country.

That meant the country had an average of coming up with a Constitution every 20 years. These constitutions included the Biak-na-Bato Constitution, the Malolos Constitution, the 1935 Constitution, the Japanese Occupation Constitution, the 1972 Constitution and the 1987 Constitution.

Based on the historical pattern, it seemed the 1987 Constitution was ripe for amendment or change.

There was another point in the country’s historical record.

Changing republics was not a new thing, Ramos said.

The country went through four previous incarnations of a Republic.

“We are now on the Fifth Republic,” he said.

The previous republics was the First under Aguinaldo, the Second one was under Jose P. Laurel under the Japanese Occupation, the Third begun in 1946 and ended in 1972, the Fourth was under New Society of the late Ferdinand E. Marcos, and the Fifth began after the EDSA Revolution upon the adoption of the 1987 Constitution.

However, the historical record also showed that when the Philippines changed republics, it underwent either of three things, a revolution, occupation by a foreign power, or a dictatorship. Ramos emphasized it was up to Filipinos to change this pattern for the better. G

 

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