Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: March 2023

MANILA – With an overwhelming 301 affirmative votes, six against and one abstention, the House of Representatives on Monday approved on third and final reading a resolution calling for a constitutional convention (con-con) that would propose amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 6 is principally authored by Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, Majority Leader Manuel Jose Dalipe, Camarines Sur 2nd District Representative Luis Raymund Villafuerte Jr., and House Committee on Constitutional Amendments chair and Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez.

Romualdez said the House aims to limit its Charter rewriting initiative to the “restrictive” economic provisions of the basic law “in the hope that the changes would pave the way for the country to attract more foreign investments.”

“We need additional investments that would create more job and income opportunities for our people. We need increased capital to sustain our economic growth momentum,” Romualdez said.

He reiterated that investment reforms by way of amending the Constitution’s economic provisions could be the “final piece in the puzzle” of improving the country’s economic and investment environment.

Earlier, the House majority held a caucus an hour before the resumption of plenary sessions wherein 300 lawmakers signified their intention to be co-authors of RHB 6.

The caucus was called to apprise the majority bloc of the priority measures that need to be acted upon by the House of Representatives before the Easter legislative break.

The Committee on Constitutional Amendments endorsed RBH No. 6 after conducting extensive public hearings and consultations in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Through the resolution, the House and the Senate resolve to call a con-con “for the purpose of proposing amendments to the economic provisions, or revision of, the 1987 Constitution.”

The resolution noted that among the three modes of proposing amendments to the Charter, the calling of a constitutional convention “would be the most transparent, exhaustive, democratic and least divisive means of implementing constitutional reforms.”

“Extensive studies show that particular economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution need to be revisited and recrafted so that the Philippines may become globally competitive and attuned with the changing times,” the resolution stated.

It further notes that such reform has been identified by reputable business and economic groups as a key policy instrument that needs to be implemented, and that these organizations feel that the economic reform by way of constitutional amendments “is now long overdue.”

The envisioned con-con would be a hybrid assembly with elected and appointed members, with the election and appointment of delegates to be held simultaneously with the Oct. 30, 2023 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls.

The details of the election and appointment of con-con delegates would be contained in an implementing bill to be passed by Congress. (PNA)

Published in News
Wednesday, 22 March 2023 06:58

Compromises on Charter revisions

THERE is a good chance that the House of Representatives passes Rep. Rufus Rodriguez's House Bill 7352. Roughly this calls for revisions of the 1987 Cory Constitution through a constitutional convention (con-con). It may be noted that amendments and revisions come in three modes: people's initiative (PI); consultative assembly (con-ass), preferred by the Senate counterpart, chaired by Sen. Robinhood Padilla; and con-con. PI is out of consideration as this mostly refers to specific amendments. The other two call for revisions.

Con-ass, the preferred mode of Senator Padilla hews close to the desire of the Senate to input directly into the constitutional revisions. Although it has been touted that only the economic provisions are to be revised, once the 1987 Constitution is touched, all bets are off. There is the temptation to go for structural-political reforms. The vested interests will get into the act, to protect and enhance their prerogatives. The oligarchy and the political dynasties that have been riding herd on the economic and political life of the nation will continue to influence the changes in the constitution.

Con-ass vs con-con

Con-ass will involve the members of the Senate and the House jointly revising the Constitution. But with political dynasties and allies of the oligarchy dominating 80 percent of both houses, the finished product could be highly flawed. Also, protection of the Senate's status is their priority. Note that in the American presidential-federal system, two senators are voted each by the states; thus, their Senate is composed of 100 senators. The mongrelized version was adopted by the Philippines where 24 senators together with the president of the Republic are elected universally.

The third option, con-con, as proposed by Representative Rodriguez could be the better alternative, provided a combination of elected delegates is balanced with the appointed 50 percent chosen delegates. The reason behind this is a pragmatic reading of our election system. Most of those that will be elected delegates would be the moneyed ones, members of political dynasties whose clans and family interests take precedence. The Rodriguez argument behind the chosen appointed constitutional experts is that the marginalized sectors — who could never afford to win an electoral campaign, can counter and balance these dynasts — and give the progressive agenda a chance to be debated.

Economic provisions

Both houses of the legislature and even the President himself has signified that only the economic provisions in the Constitution need revisions. The series of columns I wrote was an attempt to present a case against this myopic appreciation of what ails the country. Our basic argument is that the systemic anomalies embedded in the three Philippine Constitutions (1935, 1973 and 1987) are the root causes and that the current initiatives to revise the Constitution are simply applying remedial treatments to the symptoms. Thus, revisions of only the economic provisions will merely be applying palliatives. And more dangerously, this will give a false sense of accomplishments — pagbabago, a patina of reforms, cosmetic changes — while the underlying systemic anomalies remain untouched.

1987 Article XII

Both the Senate and House are in agreement that Article XII of the 1987 Constitution contains restrictive economic provisions that prevent foreign direct investments (FDI) from pouring into the country. Representative Rodriguez and Senator Padilla are one in pronouncing that the 60-40 percent ownership provisions on Sections 2, 10 and 11, respectively, on land ownership, on investments and on public utilities, discourage foreign investors to build business in the country.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the years, the inability of the Philippines to attract FDIs are mainly why we are now where we are — the tailender among the economies in Asia; when we were No. 2 to Japan, post- World War 2. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (central bank) data show an accelerated dismal drop of FDI pre-pandemic of 23.2 percent decline in 2022 compared to 2021 and 76.2 percent drop year-end 2022. Senator Padilla was quoted as saying that the country needs "drivers of growth including opening up the economy to more FDI."

The Foreign Chambers of Commerce, champions of market economy and of globalization, simply want the removal of all economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution and regulate industries via laws passed by Congress. The all-encompassing proviso to be inserted in the revised constitution of 2023 — "unless otherwise provided by law" or "as may be defined by law" to "each and every one of the [new] economic provisions" — simple, elegant, beautiful and dangerous.

To digress, this phrase has already been inserted in many provisions of the 1987 Constitution. A glaring example is the constitutional provision banning political dynasties — an evil in the political structure of the country that allows a monopoly of political power within a democracy.

Article II, Section 26 provides that "the state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law." Our Congress, composed of 80 percent dynasts, refused to enforce the constitutional ban through that phrase "unless otherwise provided by law." Perhaps, we need to examine clearly whose interests are being served.

Clearly revisions of the 1987 Constitution can't be confined only to the economic provisions — and more particularly, can't be left to the current Senate and House alone. Indeed there are progressive and right-thinking senators and congressmen but the centuries-old political system and our method of governance have so perverted our concepts of democracy, republicanism and sense of justice that we should be wary of who will tinker with our saligang batas, the Constitution.

Constitution of 2023

The ideal compromise in these constitutional revisions may be to disallow the members of the Senate and House to tinker with the Constitution via the Robinhood's con-ass. On the other hand, Rodriguez's con-con may be the right path provided the following compromises are put in place:

Allow a universal election for delegates, but disallow ex-members of the two chambers, the party lists and their relatives up to a certain degree of consanguinity from running as delegates. We don't want dynasts to be part of their own restructuring. It is oxymoronic!

And in this hybrid con-con, who does the appointing of the 50 percent delegates? The president could appoint but these people must be known qualified experts in the constitution making or at least those recommended by organizations and men and women of probity; NGOs, civil society, academe, political parties, fellowship of business, professionals and community leaders, like the Rotary, Jaycees and Lion's Clubs, etc.? The devil truly is in the details. So far, the Rodriguez committee hasn't been clear on these.

And more importantly, after the new constitution is ratified, the delegates who authored the new constitution of 2023 should be prevented from running for any elected office for a prescribed period.

The crafting of this new constitution on the carcasses of the old constitutions runs full circle. Marcos pere once attempted it in 1973, which his nemesis then proceeded to abrogate, fashioning the 1987 document. Both failed. The 2023 Constitution could be BBM's legacy, finally healing the wounds of the past, but more importantly, thrust the country toward where it should belong. Among the developing economies in Asia.


Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 15 March 2023 07:00

Unitary-presidential and alternatives

Fourth of 5 parts

THE past three parts of this five-part series were discussions on the endemic defects of Philippine society overarching our constitution contributing toward misgovernance, regulatory capture of government institutions resulting in massive corruption, rent-seeking, impunity, and all sorts of social injustices.

These deficiencies permeate the unitary-presidential model imposed by our American colonialists although theirs is a federal-presidential system. We adopted all these in the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution.

This fourth part is a rationale for the revision of the 1987 Constitution adopting a parliamentary-federal model as an alternative to our decades-old anomaly.

Features of the presidential-unitary

(Excerpt from conference overview: "Pursuing federalism," Taguig City, June 10, 2016)

What we have now is a unitary-presidential system where our local government units (LGUs) are subordinate to the dominant national central government headed by the president. This subservience to the presidency and highly centralized authority perpetuates dependency and reinforces a traditional patronage relationship.

In theory, we have the classic separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, with the president the head of state and government; both houses of Congress, entrusted with powers to make laws; and the supreme and lower courts to interpret the laws.

But in practice, this power partitioning is characterized by gridlock between the Senate and the presidency, particularly when both come from opposing political parties. Also, since the senators are likewise elected nationwide, they are disposed to challenge the presidency at every turn claiming equal status by virtue of their election by similar constituencies.

Recurring elections

One great source of "ingrained corruption" is the very expensive nationwide elections where the president, vice president and senators are predisposed to recoup their expenses and accumulate for the next election. Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the decades, the priority of central authority with the presidency at its core was to serve the interests of those that put them in power, the local political dynasts and the oligarchy, putting in the backburner the country's most pressing problem: stark poverty and widening wealth gap between the "haves and the have-nots."

Central authority also dictates planning and programs for the communities are a top-to-bottom approach, divorced from the realities on the ground; and impairing gravely the decision-making process. Critical revenues directed centrally and collected locally are invariably expensed from the top, detached from the actual needs below.

This is our dysfunctional unitary system of government. The president as the central authority is supreme and may or may not delegate or devolve powers to the LGUs where the majority of our people live and where problems originate; perforce, the solutions will not come from among them.

Parliamentary government

Under our proposed system, governance is improved with the fusion of the executive and legislative functions in a unicameral parliament. Here, the president assumes a separate role as head of state, symbolic and ceremonial with a fixed term of five years. The prime minister, elected from among the parties of parliament, becomes head of government with a parliamentary majority. This eliminates gridlock — thus hastening the passage of legislation and subsequent implementation of laws, enabling the government to effectively address the immediate and urgent needs of the citizenry.

It also provides a replacement for an incompetent and corrupt prime minister through a parliamentary "no-confidence vote" toppling the government triggering a general election. This is in lieu of the current highly partisan and divisive impeachment process.

With a majority government, it is possible for parliament to fulfill election promises without the stalemates that are the bane in a unitary system when political parties are unable to come to an agreement.

Both government and opposition political parties can advance their agenda by going through discourse, rigorous debates and deal-making — the main instruments for passing laws.

As government ministers are members of parliament (MPs) themselves enjoying a majority, they do not face much difficulty in getting their programs through parliament. Confrontation and instability are thus minimized.

While the Council of Ministers as a body is responsible to the prime minister, the individual ministers are also responsible to parliament for their respective acts of omission or commission. To survive, they must remain "clean." It is in the interest of the opposition, being the watchdog of the government, to expose corruption and inefficiencies; the reason for the "shadow government" — the opposition monitoring every move of government presenting their own alternative version of laws, policies and implementation processes.

There is a lot of flexibility in the parliamentary system to cope with changing situations and emergencies. It can easily adapt itself to any new reality. As Neville Chamberlain failed to lead Britain during the Second World War, he was replaced by Winston Churchill as British prime minister.

Political parties and party-lists

Parliamentary system is also known as "party government," as the political parties have ascendancy over personalities and because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance, and public administrations.

Unfortunately, almost all of the political parties in the Philippines are structured in a manner that hew close to the centuries-old patronage system where because of a paucity of ideological perspectives and politicians bereft of moral compass anchored on patent expediency, they jump from one party to another — a uniquely Filipino phenomenon known as "political butterfly."

A unicameral parliament is composed of elected members from the parliamentary districts, plus a party-list chosen on the basis of "proportional representation" by the political party and allocated to marginalized sectors — labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous people communities, differently-abled, etc. Constituting 20 percent to 30 percent of the total number of MPs, they are not fielded separately from the majority and opposition parties. Our current party-list system has been perverted to accommodate local family dynasties and the oligarchy.

We need political party system restructuring as collective vehicles to gain political power in parliament and where members adhere to a set of principles and strategies written in a platform unique to that party.

A federal system

Eventually after establishing a parliamentary system, we shift from unitary to federal government where the LGUs share powers with the central (federal) government as equals with powers defined and agreed to in a written constitution which can only be changed or altered by mutual consent of both.

We want to shift to a system with clear division of authority between the national government (federal) and the regional governments (states/Bangsa). Federalism aims to establish a democratic system that recognizes the rights of each region to govern itself and pursue its own agenda of progress and development consistent with the national interest. It will run its own affairs and decide its own destiny without interference from the national government.

In most federal republics, the federal government normally is responsible for national defense and security, foreign affairs, currency, money and coinage; and powers granted to it by the constitution. All other powers not belonging to the federal government are retained or given to the states.

It is worthwhile noting that Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, House chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, has conducted public hearings and with the overwhelming support of 301 congressmen authored a bill to revise the Constitution through a constitutional convention.

Next week, March 22: Compromises on the constitutional revisions


Published in LML Polettiques

Third of a series

LAST week's Part 2 was a short treatise on the political dynasty and its antecedents from our historical and political cultures. Today's column is a discussion of its twin evil, the oligarchy, and their symbiosis. An appendage, the party list, deserves special treatment, as this was an anomalous adaptation of the 1987 Cory Constitution emanating from the desire of the newly installed regime to translate the EDSA People Power Revolution into "empowerment" of the people.

The oligarchy

(Excerpt from "Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy," The Manila Times, Aug. 5, 2020.)

"In the Philippine setting, the oligarchy as defined refers to some large private multi-businesses whose wealth can be traced back to the Spanish colonizers. Some sources of wealth are gifted to families from Catholic friar lands for their services to the Crown. Growing over time, this wealth is passed on to the next generations. Many of these businesses started as monopolies continuing to the present time. But many indubitably grew out of sheer hard work by founders gifted with talent and the ability to convert opportunities into wealth creation. But to exist, survive and flourish over time, they needed to acquire and possess political power to protect their economic clout. In the present context, political power is acquired through a legitimizing process of elections — handed down by our American mentors under the umbrella of democracy and all its appurtenances. And the political dynasties have this as their singular expertise."

(Excerpt from "Can the oligarchy and political dynasty be obliterated?" TMT, Aug. 12, 2020.)

"The oligarchy is a multifaceted class, and the term is by no means neutral. Political science practitioners and political economists oftentimes differ in their definition and clarity of interpretation. I have adopted the contemporary definition as used by ordinary citizens, which in most cases is colored by their politics and heavily weighted by their acuities and biases. It can be vituperative and, at times, benign or even uplifting. Some popular definitions describe the nature of the oligarchy as a power structure that allows members to accumulate economic and political clout, influencing governance directly or indirectly and distorting functions and policies for their benefit, to the exclusion of the rest of society. This complex power structure invariably is a composite of privately owned and controlled multiple large businesses involving allies or adjuncts in elective and appointive positions in government manning captive regulatory agencies. The latter describes aptly the special class of mostly elective officials, the political dynasts capable of passing on their political clout and entitlements to family members over generations.

I have often maintained that individual families or personages composing the oligarchy, which in contemporary parlance are also interchangeable with 'Filipino family business elite' are not all enemies of the people. I cited some members of the Filipino business elite going back to the American and Spanish regimes. 'These people are the risk-takers, with long-term views, pioneers in industries that need big capital and managerial talents — where government is incompetent to tread into.'

What is unconscionable are those of the same elite that suck the bone marrow of the Filipino, using their wealth to corrupt public office holders. At this level, a macabre partnership is forged between the financiers and bankrollers with those who seek political power using the tools of democracy and republicanism — the legitimizing process of elections and general suffrage. This synergy between the business elite and elected government officials is the systemic twin evils hovering over our democratic space — anchored by traditional political practices. At this point, the lines are blurred as to how economic and political power are exploited and utilized. The biggest myth being propagated is the singular notion that there are good and moral oligarchs and political dynasts. There are none! A fine distinction has to be drawn at this point. True, there are 'good and bad' business people, as there are 'good and bad' politicians. But the very concept of the oligarchy and the political dynasty as power structures embedded in the body politic safeguarded by our laws is abhorrent. This unwanted offspring borne out of an incubus of an anomalous forced marriage of the Filipino culture with that of 300 years of Spanish influence, and 100 years of American imposition of their distorted ideals of democracy and republicanism, underlined by the untrammeled practices of the free market economy, must be aborted."

Intertwining and symbiosis

(Excerpt from "Political dynasty handmaiden to oligarchy," TMT, Aug. 5, 2020.)

"This marriage of interests between the oligarchy and political dynasty blurs the line between economic and political power accumulation, resulting in several phenomena with grievous consequences.

First, encroaching directly into the political mainstream, political parties are either created or captured. Cases in point: The Nationalist People's Coalition, or NPC, founded in 1992 by the late Eduardo "Danding" Cojuangco Jr., now under successor Ramon Ang, has five senators and 33 congressmen and countless local government executives. The National Unity Party, or NUP, chaired and funded by business tycoon Enrique Razon Jr., has about 36 House legislators. Billionaire Manny Villar, a former senator, has captured the Nacionalista Party (NP). His wife Cynthia is a sitting senator, among four other NPs, with son Mark, erstwhile public works secretary under Duterte, and daughter Camille, members of Congress, plus 35 others."
Party list

The second phenomenon is the travesty of the party-list system. Originally a political innovation patterned after European party-lists to give a broader voice to the "non-political" sector of society — the farmers, fisherfolk, labor, peasants, etc. — the purpose of which was to democratize the Lower House of Congress which had been co-opted by the oligarchy and the political dynasties. What was meant to allow one-fifth of the Lower House greater democratic representation was instead perverted by the oligarchy and the political dynasts by installing family members as party-list representatives. Today, the party-list has become an adjunct to the twin evils of Philippine politics — the oligarchy and the political dynasties.

It may be recalled that the original party list concept was a structure suited to a parliament where a parliamentary majority of adversarial political parties determines the government of the day. It was therefore imperative to build ideologically diverse political parties that cater to the collective aspirations and hopes of the citizenry — with the voiceless segment of the populace given a voice through the party list — but within the ambit of the major political parties, the ruling majority, and the opposition. Thus, the traditional ideological divide of, conservatives (Republicans), progressives (Democrats), labor, leftists, etc. — not a single-issue party list with eclectic proclivities: Agimat, Kontra Brownout, Mocha (Mothers for Change), Marvelous Tayo, Tutok to Win, Ako Musikero, and a host of inane acronyms.

Politics in the Philippines as a family business is thriving. Even the former president, catapulted to power under a populist resurgence, has created his own. Daughter Sara, erstwhile city mayor, now vice president; son Sebastian, former vice mayor, now mayor; and another son, Paolo, congressman. All come from one city, Davao. BBM has a senator for a sister, a son for a congressman, the speaker of the House for a cousin and various relatives in local government units (LGUs).

Next week, March 15: The unitary-presidential system and alternatives

Published in LML Polettiques