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Cha-cha is running out of time Featured

LOOKING back these past 16 months, the euphoria of the 16 million or so voters that catapulted DU30 to power shows some signs of fading. Those who are in social media will see the deepening divide between the exuberant “DDS and the Yellows,” and the Duterte fist pumpers vs the PNoy loyalists.


Normally, after every national election there is a healing process that allows tempers to subside, the licking of wounds and the grudging acceptance of the ascendant winning brand, thereby letting the rest of the populace go on with their ordinary lives.


Sixteen months into his presidency, DU30’s projection of his alpha-male personality, his earthy language and the variation of the same cantata—“I will kill you if you destroy my people”—has morphed into a tedious broken-record of a sonata. These are reinforced by the heightened anxiety of the citizenry: over the daily killings brought about by “tokhang”; the worsening traffic in the capital; the disruptions of the MRT that of late have turned bizarre with the loss of a passenger’s limb; televised exchange of insults by the “august members of the Senate”; endless congressional hearings on corruption. The list goes on.


President Duterte’s actuations and exceptional performance in the Asean and APEC summits are mitigating factors, if indeed sustainable. But judging by his past attempts at being presidential, I have my doubts. So, I arrive at some conclusions which are personal assessments based on decades of experience in several levels of governance with four administrations.


My first hypothesis is, the ways things are going now—there will be no political reforms.


From the time the Deegong assumed power, he has been glued to his first election promise of eliminating illegal drugs that for him comprises the end-all of his peace and order agenda – on which he made himself an expert as mayor of Davao City. But early on, he had to confess that the problem was actually much bigger than he thought.


The economy admirably showed robust growth and the stock market has seen new heights, but these don’t matter with the greater masses of our poor. The trickle-down effect will have to be given time to reach the masses.


Commendably, the Deegong has reoriented our foreign relations and exacted rewards from China, Japan and our other rich neighbors with loans hopefully to be used for infrastructure – critical basic ingredients for the country’s industrialization.


But the economic growth and foreign sorties putting the Deegong in the international limelight are at best fickle as shown by the siege in Marawi.


The Marawi siege is but one of the many symptoms of the systemic problems hounding the country for centuries that needs attention; social justice, good governance, political reforms and the longing of a people for autonomy and self-governance. But some of our policymakers have been deluded enough to declare its immediate cause as “illegal drugs driven”.


The resolution to the multi-faceted problems of the country is very much contingent on the solution to the Moro problem in Mindanao, with the passing of the BBL being merely the first step to a sustainable peace. Muslim autonomy and the revision of the Constitution are the sine qua non for genuine systemic and systematic political reforms. But we are no longer sure what is happening to these initiatives.


My second hypothesis is—the lingering perception that DU30 has “dropped the ball on federalism.”


A major part of the exuberance of the 30 percent that propelled Duterte to power was his vaunted agenda for federalism, the system change that will emancipate the periphery from the center and allow their development as they see fit. Many of the federalists gathered round his banner and with only their enthusiasm propelling them, went to the provinces spreading the gospel of federalism—but in many tongues and sometimes contradictory nuances. Fortunately, a few groups like the president’s political party, the PDP Laban, the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) and some adherents codified the important concepts and are now being debated in a more disciplined manner in and outside of Congress.


Therein lies the complexity. While the House has slowly started public hearings and has come up with its own proposals, some of which are self-serving (making all provinces federal states; protecting political dynasties), the Senate, with their constant bickering and TV-driven public inquiries, has not taken the first step on Charter revisions. Without the Senate’s concurrence, Charter change will not happen!


The President, whose political party nominally controls both houses, has not been able to move the debate. Last December, an executive order was issued establishing a 25-man commission to study and propose political changes in the constitution. A year has passed. It has not been constituted.


The President has declared that passing the BBL should come first before the creation of the commission, and he wants the two major Muslim insurgencies, the MILF and MNLF, to agree on the final structure of their desired autonomous state or territory. On the other hand, the Senate leadership has intimated that the commission must first be constituted so they can assess the thrust of the President’s agenda on the shift to a parliamentary-federal system. This chicken and egg scenario is what stymies the revision of the Constitution. And this is further complicated by the alliances and substructure within Senate itself. The committee on constitutional revisions is headed by Sen. Kiko Pangilinan, the Liberal Party leader who has shown disdain for amending the Constitution.


The President’s party is dominant in both houses of Congress, and he wields enormous power. Yet the administration agenda is not moving at a desired pace. There is definitely something wrong here. And the growing frustration of the President’s allies may entice them to inject their own dangerous agenda into these dynamics to break the impasse – either legitimately or otherwise.


Next week: A final solution?
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