Charter change will not happen

Charter change will not happen Featured

First of a series

THIS is not meant to disparage BBM but his latest statements may not have been thought out well, reflecting a lack of discernment on his part at best, or at worst, just simply mouthing the advice and opinion of his sycophants who benefit from the status quo.

I refer to his assertions that Charter change is not a priority. His administration's economic agenda can be pursued without amending the Constitution. Accordingly, the sentiments for pursuing Charter change stem largely from the perceived need to amend only the economic provisions of the Constitution — and nothing else!

This reflects largely the dissonance among his allies in the legislative branch. Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, of the House Committee on Constitutional Revisions, is now conducting public hearings, while his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Robinhood Padilla, asserting his prerogatives, declared: "...I will pursue my own advocacies, with or without the President's support..."

This is an erroneous shortsighted notion that only the economic provisions preventing the free flow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) is what is wrong with the Constitution. Ergo, the rest of the Constitution is fine. And by extension, the political patronage that is the core of our systemic anomalies in governance is fine. Political dynasties protected by the Constitution are fine. The election system defined by "goons, guns and gold" is fine. That government institutions are captives of the oligarchy is fine. BBM fails to see the umbilical cord tying the country's economy with its political structures. BBM needs to go deep into how the economy, politics and political structures intertwine.

Thus, this multipart series on political economy, an abridged compilation of my articles over the years similarly written for past presidents — GMA, PNoy and the Deegong. FVR wrote seminal positions in his countless books. Perhaps BBM can step back and kindly look at the ideological and historical perspectives that the Centrist Democrats (CD) have been advocating over the decades — and give him a point of reference. BBM is our president and deserves to look at the various ideas and concepts that he may agree or better yet, that clash with his own — the better for him to arrive at a working synthesis.

Historical perspective

Mr. President, if you study your immediate history well, you might get a glimpse of the nuances behind the crafting of the 1973 and 1987 Constitutions. Your father fashioned the 1973 martial law Constitution revising the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution. This 38-year-old document featured a unitary-presidential system establishing a "political order based on democratic principles of representation, accountability and the rule of law" — cherished American ideals transplanted into our Constitution. Many provisions were identical to the 1789 American Constitution notwithstanding the glaring fact that the US is a federal system. What was imposed by our American colonials is a mongrelized version of theirs — one with inherent political structural infirmities: presidential-federal form with our president and vice president possibly coming from different political parties; and senators elected nationwide similar to the president, creating a possible area of ego-conflict. And a highly centralized authority based in the capital region with provinces and local government units subservient to the center; among others.

Ferdie Macoy understood only too well these systemic perversions and opted for a parliamentary system of government but with a bizarre twist — installing himself as the premier/president and Cesar Virata as prime minister, with a subservient parliament quaintly named the Interim Batasang Pambansa.

When his nemesis booted him out along with the 1973 Constitution, Cory came out with a half-baked 1987 Constitution which almost put in place a parliamentary system — similar to your father's. But for one vote, it retained the presidential form. In her desire to expunge any vestige of the martial rule, she came up with a constitution which is more anti-martial law than pro-Filipino.

In haste, the framers irresponsibly allowed a proliferation of political parties neglecting to delete the provisions on the "party list," a concept that should have been an appropriate adjunct to a parliamentary system but not to a unitary-presidential one. This encouraged the proliferation of hundreds of single-issue political parties, a cacophony of petty interests led by petty despots, a bane for good governance. Complications of politics and the political structures dominated both Ferdie Macoy's and Cory's constitution — not simply the economic provisions.

Political patronage — the basic evil

Mr. President, the economic provisions in our Constitution stem from the type of systemic structure that remained unreformed since the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution. The unitary-presidential system jealously guarded by these constitutions is the embryo upon which patronage politics is nurtured. For almost 100 years the system flourished feeding upon the least desired facet of Filipino culture, the desire for and dependence on a benefactor from the datu and sultan, heading a clan, to the Spanish patron looking over the indios, to the American "big brother," morphing into the Philippine president, the "father" of the people...

The 1973 martial law Constitution simply validated patronage politics during his earlier administration and practiced this to perfection during the martial law years where "crony capitalism" entered our political lexicon. To hold on to power, "patrons and padrinos" were allowed to dip their dirty fingers into the public coffers and dispensed them to the chosen electors — thus a new subspecies of the oligarchy was born, and another word appeared in the glossary, "kleptocracy."

Subsequent practitioners of this sordid art of political patronage, chiefly Presidents Erap and Gloria paled in comparison to the masters — the "conjugal dictatorship" of the Marcoses — but the two former presidents did a good job as acolytes, honing the practices further.

Today, political patronage has become more pervasive and has fomented corruption. Our electoral processes for instance are the overarching environment upon which political patronage incubates. Paradoxically, democracy can't exist without elections; except that in our culture, we managed to debauch the same.

Politicians, whether "wannabes" or incumbents, spend millions of pesos to gain the support of their constituents. As a result, a major consideration of the elected public servant is to recoup their investments through all sorts of "rent-seeking activities," leakages in public funds and outright corruption — to the detriment of society's development and public good.

And in our presidential system, where the president is elected at large, he is expected to provide the wherewithal for an expensive election campaign. This opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite to influence the outcome. And we can only speculate at the quid pro quo.

With the constitutional mandated term limits of elective officials, this deviant model of "public service as a private business" becomes a strong impetus toward the perpetuation of this power base — thus the birth of powerful political dynasties.

To assuage the progressive allies of Cory, her Constitution allowed the passing of a provision, a constitutional ban on "political dynasties" but with a killer adjunct — "as may be defined by law" — allowing Congress to refuse to follow through with implementing provisions — simply because this provision is against Congress' interest. Congress is 80 percent chock full of dynasts.

Next Wednesday, March 1, 2023: Political dynasties

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