CON-COM HEARING. Former Chief Justice and Consultative Committee (Con-com) chair Renato Puno leads the En Banc session on the proposed federal form of government at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City on Tuesday (Feb. 27, 2018). The Con-Com members voted for a federal-presidential system instead of the hybrid semi-presidential system at 11-7. (PNA photo by Gil Calinga) CON-COM HEARING. Former Chief Justice and Consultative Committee (Con-com) chair Renato Puno leads the En Banc session on the proposed federal form of government at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City on Tuesday (Feb. 27, 2018). The Con-Com members voted for a federal-presidential system instead of the hybrid semi-presidential system at 11-7. (PNA photo by Gil Calinga) pna.gov.ph, (PNA photo by Gil Calinga)

Can Con-com, Con-ass speak for us? Featured

THE executive order creating the 25-man Consultative Commission or Committee (Con-com) to advise President Duterte on the revisions of the 1987 Constitution has been inordinately delayed. Signed on December 7, 2016, it took the President 14 months to constitute its membership. This delay is a fatal flaw as it would result in unforced errors by the Con-com with serious implications on the revisions of the 1987 Constitution. Under the EO 10, its mandate is to“…study, conduct consultations and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution including, but not limited to, the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance and economic policies.” Its findings and recommendations are meant to be adopted by the President when dealing with Congress, that has the sole constitutional mandate to revise the 1987 Constitution. In this sense, Con-com advises the President who in turn advises Congress.

Con-com’s initial critical work was to gauge the people’s pulse before crafting a draft constitution. Its members, selected for their expertise needed to consult other outside experts, notably the public. The beneficiary needs to imbue its soul into the document. Debates and public hearings are tools essential for this endeavor. They have six months to do this.

But on the evening of February 27, the chair, CJ Puno called for a vote on the structure for the Federal Philippine Republic. The first alternative was a semi-presidential/parliamentary federal form of government advanced by PDP Laban; a second was a simple parliamentary-federal system advocated by the CDPI/CDP/LAKAS/2005 called the “The Centrist Proposals”; and the third was for the status quo. As it turns out, the Con-com opted to retain the presidential system, the status quo.

The rush to demarcate the structures with minimal or no public hearings reversed the consultative process. Eleven members decided instead to flesh out the particulars of the presidential model, conveniently eliminating the parliamentary prototypes advocated by the PDP-Laban and the Centrist proposals. And conceivably present the finished product either to the President for an imprimatur and/or to the public in a fait accompli for acquiescence and confirmation; with the public, none the wiser. This was the first unforced error.

The President’s 14-month equivocation likewise precipitated a guessing game and attempts among his allies to parse his vague musings on federalism. These resulted instead in a babel of interpretations proffering archetypes backed by fringe adherents oftentimes contradicting each other.

This was further exacerbated by the patently puerile take of the president’s acolytes (DDS and fist pumpers) splattered all over media, simply reflecting blindly the President’s ruminations. An example is the Deegong’s bias towards a strongman chief executive encapsulated in his desire for a “French model.” France isn’t even federal. Such intimations have in fact convoluted the political discourse, a fault laid at the door of the presidency purveying the suspicion that DU30 has dropped the ball on his federalism advocacy.

Perhaps, in hopes of imposing a certain scholarly discipline and conduct to move their internal dialogue at a much faster pace, Con-com snubbed the inchoate popularity of the parliamentary systems argued and chatted upon articulately in social media.

Lost in all of these are the of defects of the status quo now espoused by CJ Puno and his colleagues. I will just cite two inherent ones evident over the decades of practice: universal presidential election, and the lethal consequences of a single leader with tremendous concentrated powers.

Empirical data shows billions of pesos are spent to propel a single person to the presidency. The tremendous amount of logistics raised for such a campaign leaves the winner vulnerable to the moneyed few that provide the same. The heated competition for the top post among four or five driven alpha personalities over ponderous and costly campaign periods opens an aperture for the oligarchy and the moneyed elite to inject their agenda into the political exercise; resulting in these donors exacting their pounds of flesh upon the winners, and the latter conceding to rent-seeking practices and oftentimes granting outright regulatory capture. It is a well-known dictum that one who controls political power controls economic power.

But the most glaring defect of the presidential system of government is that this is the embryo upon which patronage politics is nurtured. For almost 100 years the system flourished feeding upon the least desired facet of the 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 a people. Our politicians have perfected a system of patronage where government coffers and benefits for the citizenry are dispensed through a political structure down to the lowest construct of government, controlled by them. This system, relic of a feudal and colonial past, has now been elevated to perfection in modern Philippine politics.

Let me quote Chief Justice Renato Puno:

“I like to stress the failure of our electoral system to excise the virus of the politics of patronage that has infected our so-called elections…xxx…This vicious politics of patronage has allowed few oligarchs and bosses to rule us from colonial times to post-colonial times and their rule has brought us nothing but a facade of democracy, its mirage but not its miracle.”

These are deep and beautiful words—and true. The Con-com chair voted for the status quo – the presidential form of government.

In his speech delivered during the consultative committee en banc on February 27 on the vote for political system, Edmund Tayao said:

“The presidential system is a zero-sum system. This is the finding of studies of so many scholars of comparative politics, political system and democracy and democratization.

In a presidential system regardless of how many candidates and competing parties, only one can win and the significance of coalition building is dependent significantly on the winning candidate, that is, after the elections shall have already passed.”

And I might add too: The winner is the new “patron”; the loser again is us.

Today, with half-measures and reticence from DU30, a gap in the people’s understanding of federalism is widening. Congress has filled in this void, unfortunately injecting their selfish entitlements. Having captured the public discourse, it is now shaping the debate. This has given tremendous boost to their allies among the guardians of the status quo, martialing their forces and defending the bastion of their values and prerogatives – the 1987 Constitution.

And therein lies the conundrum. To whom will the people defer for the documents articulating “pagbabago”? The consultative assembly (Con-ass), the same institution that for 32 years has refused to pass a law against self-interest on the prohibition of political dynasties? The ConComm, one that has abrogated its gift to articulate the people’s voice in its capitulation vote “for the familiar”?

The level of frustration has gone up several notches and if one listens to the rumblings in the streets, the dangerous whispers of revgov as an opening aria to dictatorship are beginning to gain traction. God help us!000
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