"This plan looks like a sneak attack on Philippine democracy."
Don’t look now, but it appears that the Philippine National Railways recently transferred its office to the Batasan Complex in Quezon City lock, stock, and barrel, and in the dead of night, while the whole city was asleep.
That’s what it looks like from where we sit, which is really not far away from the Batasan, and already we can hear the rumbling sound of an approaching train headed in our direction—and yours as well.
We’re referring to the apparent indecent haste with which House of Representatives has approved on second reading a proposed draft federal charter that throws out of the window the all-important anti-political dynasty provision contained in the draft prepared by the Consultative Committee headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
We’ve seen the video posted on Facebook where the presiding officer of a recent plenary session of the Lower House, Rep. Raneo Abu, moved for a voting on the amended Resolution of Both Houses of Congress (RBH) No. 15.
In the video, when the congressman asked who were in favor of the resolution, we heard a feeble “Aye” from those present, which indicated that they were only a handful.
When he asked who were against it, the “Nays” were clearly louder, meaning there were more against it.
But despite the louder viva voce for the negative side, the congressman banged the gavel and proclaimed the resolution approved.
That the draft federal charter is being rushed by the House of Representatives is well in evidence even during the earlier deliberations on the issue.
Two weeks ago, we invited Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza, who represents Buhay Party-List, to our Saturday News Forum@UP Hotel to talk on the current political situation.
Right at the outset, Atienza expressed amazement—and alarm—at the speed with which the House seems to be rushing passage of the draft charter that would replace the current unitary system of government with a federal one.
The shift to a federal system of government has long been a pet advocacy of former senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr. and the PDP-Laban. His son Koko, who succeeded him as party president, is now carrying the torch for the federalism agenda, which President Rodrigo Duterte fully supports.
Atienza said the rush to approve the draft federal charter is unseemly and questionable as Filipinos should be educated first on what the effect of such a shift on their daily lives and on the future of the nation as a whole would be.
More than this, he said, our people should be allowed to participate in active discussion and debate on such a momentous political move, instead of Congress arrogating unto itself the sole power and prerogative to decide on changing our system of governance.
“There’s absolutely no reason to rush this very important measure that will impact on all of us. Let us not be like blind cows being stampeded over a cliff,” Atienza pointed out.
The party-list lawmaker suggested that Congress should instead focus on the need to amend the Local Government Code than fast-track the passage of RBH No. 15, which proposes a presidential-bicameral-federal system of government.
“If these provisions on local autonomy are respected and genuinely implemented, then there would be no need to federalize,” Atienza said.
Conrado Generoso, the spokesman of the Consultative Committee, has also raised questions over the House draft charter, branding it as “worse than the 1935 Constitution” as it lacks an anti-political dynasty provision.
The draft also became controversial when it excluded the Vice President from the line of succession during the transition period to a federal form of government. Because of the public backlash, the House panel agreed to put Vice President Leni Robredo back in the line of succession.
While it is true that the Filipino people themselves would have to give their imprimatur to a new federal Constitution in a referendum/plebiscite called for the purpose, the undue haste in approving the draft federal charter also raises suspicion that its transitory provisions could lead to a no-election scenario where the current crop of elected officials would be able to extend their terms until 2022.
How would this come about?
The plan, it would appear, is to pass the draft charter by the end of this year or early in January next year, with the referendum/plebiscite scheduled to be held in February. And once the federal system has been approved by Filipinos in the referendum/plebiscite in February, then there is no more need for the May 2019 election.
Neat, huh, but this plan looks like a sneak attack on Philippine democracy, if you ask us, and those behind this subterfuge will have to contend with stiff opposition in the Senate. I distinctly remember there’s a common sentiment among some senators that any Charter change effort would be “dead on arrival” in the upper chamber. Remember, getting a two-thirds vote in the Senate where there are six members of the Liberal Party and several others who are independent-minded would be a tall order, but we can’t really say how things will turn out. After all, anything can happen under the current dispensation, which operates under the principle that where there’s a will, there’s a way.