Capital Featured

It is now official. Rodrigo Duterte is president-elect.

At noon of June 30, he will assume the highest office in the land. The handover ceremony might be intentionally simple; but the expectations are overblown.

Duterte sought the highest post on the theme “Change is Coming.” His inaugural message should be: Change has Come.

That might sound simple enough; but it is not. President Duterte has barely a month to craft the elements of the change we might expect to happen.

Those elements must add up to something sweeping enough to satisfy the discontented electorate who brought him to power by an immense landslide. He accesses the presidency with tremendous political capital. That political capital, already humungous, is further magnified by the force of his personality, his willingness to work until he drops and by the absence of any significant opposition to his clear mandate to lead.

He must strike while the iron is hot, while he enjoys the momentum and while the traditional political aristocracy is shell-shocked. The LP, the locus of conservatives, has evaporated faster than any of us imagined just a few weeks ago. The dogmatic bishops, who feebly attempted to turn the electoral tide with a timid pastoral letter, are bewildered. The self-righteous Yellows are in full dispersal mode.

Although swept to the presidency principally on a law and order plank, the truly revolutionary thing Duterte can do is to cause constitutional reform. Ultimately, the weakness of our state and the lethargy of the political aristocracy are rooted in a bankrupt political order. This political order reproduces transactional politics and creates no statesmen.

If overhauling the constitutional order is the only thing Duterte does, he will be a hero. Let the police deal with the drug problem, heavy-handedly if necessary. Let the technocrats deal with our creaking infra. Duterte’s best use of his political capital is to liberate the state from the oligarchy.

When Noynoy Aquino took the presidency in 2010, he had no inclination for dramatic change. He did not want to entertain constitutional reform – not only because it was his mother’s document but also because he was work-averse. Transforming the state and reworking the bureaucracy was hard work, therefore unattractive for a diffident president.

Instead of state-building, Noynoy squandered his political capital undermining our institutions. He forced out the Ombudsman and proceeded to decapitate the Supreme Court, looking to produce a submissive judiciary. He bribed the legislative branch by tripling the pork barrel, arming his office with lump sum funds and experimenting with the DAP. He used the cash transfer program to buy popularity and the “bottom-up budgeting” program to buy loyalty.

Noynoy’s presidency pushed patronage politics to the fullest. This is why its political base capitulated so unabashedly when the lame-duck leader can no longer dole-out spoils. This was a presidency without ideological purposiveness.

By contrast, Duterte seems to be an impatient, restless and relentless visionary.

He is an outsider to the establishment not only by his geographic origin. He is an outsider by intellectual disposition. He knows the constitutional order is dead and must be replaced.

In the first hundred days of the Duterte presidency, we should see some definite movement towards Charter change.

The forces of conservatism, as we saw in the past, will try to preserve the existing constitutional order by delaying the process of Charter change and hoping the new president’s political capital dissipates first. The usual tactic for achieving this is to press for a constitutional convention to be called.

A constitutional convention will make the process of Charter change indefinite. As we saw in the 1970 convention, the process took years and was overtaken by events. After martial rule was proclaimed, Ferdinand Marcos wrote the Charter himself.

Furthermore, election of delegates following the boundaries of congressional districts will produce a convention composed of the same ruling dynasties. They will write a document that will nullify the changes we want achieved.

Neither will it be ideal to convert the Congress into a constituent assembly. The legislative branch is dominated by the same elements we want purged from our politics.

It will be more efficient for the new president to establish a constitutional commission. This was the method Cory Aquino used to draw up the 1987 Constitution. In 2005, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo convened a Consultative Commission on Charter Change that, after much deliberation, actually drafted a new constitution that remains relevant to this day.

In the interest of full disclosure, I participated in this as commissioner and agree fully with the final document issued by this body.

There are, after all, only three issues constitutional reform needs to tackle: relaxing restrictions on investments, the unitary versus federal debate and the choice between maintaining the presidential form or shifting to a parliamentary government.

Duterte’s position on these issues was discussed during the campaign. He is for relaxing nationality requirements on investments, rebuilding government on a federal format and shifting to a parliamentary form. The 2005 document favored exactly those positions.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. A draft constitution is available. A panel of constitutional experts may be convened to go over the draft and have it ready to be submitted to a plebiscite.

Drafted a decade ago, it is as free from the influence of present political players as any document could be. With a septuagenarian president, no one can accuse the new president of preparing for his perpetuation in power.

I say: polish the 2005 document and submit it to public deliberation. Get constitutional reform done now.


Read 2691 times Last modified on Tuesday, 31 May 2016 11:39
Rate this item
(0 votes)