For heaven’s sake, ConCom’s work is just a draft! The Philippine Star

For heaven’s sake, ConCom’s work is just a draft! Featured

LATELY, an ugly public clash among some cabinet members and the DDS/fist pumpers erupted, poisoning further an already polluted discourse on federalism. And true to form, the Yellow army with their Senate allies took advantage of the breach threatening to derail whatever is advocated by their bete noire.

It started with an initiative from a comely, unlettered but a social media heavyweight reducing the federalism concept into a song and dance number with heavy sexual undertones. Her supporters praised her utterly asinine effort as one that put federalism on center stage, irrespective of whether the concept was understood or not. This reduced a complex advocacy into a vulgar spectacle. Many among the true believers cringe at half-cocked attempts by favored Malacañang sycophants tasked to disseminate the concepts to elevate the political dialogue to a respectable higher level.

Then came a series of pronouncements by the President’s alter egos publicly contradicting his stand, or so it seemed. The defense secretary “…expressed belief that the country is not yet ready to shift to a federal form of government…(since) a lot of Filipinos don’t understand or are not yet ready for a change in the type of government that we have and still needs to be educated about it.”

In this case therefore, let the advocates redouble their efforts for a massive information and education campaign, making them ready for federalism, the military personnel included. You don’t discard a DU30 flagship issue because of the inability of the bureaucracy to do its part, inform and educate.

But the good Secretary’s non sequitur of an argument has already been belied by similar past instances that the Filipino may not have also understood quite well the unitary government written in the 1935 Commonwealth, 1973 Marcos and 1987 Cory constitutions.

“What we need to understand about the Filipino is for the past 300 years of colonialism, they trust their patrons and put their faith in their leaders to do the right thing by them. They will take federalism and the charter change on faith. And you can’t sell them short. They are a magnificently discerning race.” (“Federalism-Cha-cha! going nowhere?” TMT, July 25, 2018)

Then on August 9, 2018 the Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with the headline “Economic managers cite risks of federalism,” citing Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd’s statement to the Senate finance committee that the Philippines’ investment grade credit ratings, which make it cheaper for the country to borrow money, would “go to hell” if the proposed shift to federalism proceeds.

To add fuel to the fire, Dominguez was quoted as saying: “…the national government may have to lay off 95 percent of its employees, or reduce the funds for the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program by 70 percent, or a combination of both.”

What could have been a harmless but indiscreet gesture of public plea by the economic managers to the ConCom group for clarification was instead twisted and converted by the Yellow press into a form of lese majeste, gaining political points and embarrassing the Deegong.

Dominguez had to lamely appeal to the federalism advocates by calling “…for a dialogue on the federalism issue…making it clear that while the economic team is not against federalism, it has the responsibility to point out the ambiguous and unclear provisions in the proposed draft charter…”

Yes, but the harm had been done. In his salvo, ConCom member Fr. Ranhilio Aquino said that Dominguez had practically snubbed the ConCom hearings, sending instead incompetent underlings, reflecting perhaps the reluctance of the DoF to be on board DU30’s federalism initiative.

All this hullabaloo could have been avoided if our Centrist (CDP/CDPI) draft, the 2005 ConCom with erstwhile President GMA’s imprimatur, had been seriously considered by the CJ Puno-led 2018 ConCom; and if they were not fixated by their comfortably familiar presidential-federal position as a cure-all, fulfilling their desire for instant gratification; and if the ConCom were more evenly staffed with professionals, economists and businessmen, rather than being heavily bloated with lawyers and academics.

The Centrist position was to shift first to parliamentary government before attempting to shift to a federal structure, allowing time for the provinces and regions to form themselves into cohesive federal states. And the main instrument that will guide them through this process is the parliament through the “federalizing commission,” similar to the current ConCom’s proposed “federal intergovernmental commission.”

This commission is where the myriad economic and financial questions are to be dissected, clarified and acted upon, not this prematurely plaguing the debate with toxic postulates and premises. The Centrist draft focused on the step-by-step process of shifting from a unitary to parliamentary government to autonomous territories, and eventually to federal states.

Our view is that the future constitutionally mandated federalization commission must be authorized wide leeway to look into both the political and economic structural viability; the sourcing of funds and the taxation powers; the sharing of income and expenditures and a host of concerns that midwives the birthing of a Federal Republic. The particulars are to be threshed out by parliament when the organic laws for the federal states are originated. These details are not meant to be all written in the constitution, only the guiding principles. This is what a constitution is meant to be. And this is yet to be written by the constitutional assembly (ConAss) in Congress. What the President’s allies are now quarreling over is a draft proffered by the 2018 ConCom, however incompetently written.

Even a feature of the ConCom draft delineating the political boundaries of the federal states or regions are simply for illustration and will be finalized by parliament and the local people themselves negotiating and agreeing among each other. Even the seat of the federal state will be a bone of contention if written in the constitution or imposed by parliament.

On the other hand, leaving it to the provincial local executives to propose the future federal states will open the issue to the self-serving local leaders and political dynasties, like the proposal of the League of Provinces, pushing for 81 federal states. How stupid is that?

Playing with figures today and quarrelling over them before the parameters are decided in a totally new federal-parliamentary paradigm is akin to looking cross-eyed through the lens of a unitary government set-up.

My unsolicited advice is to heed the cool admonition of the lone economist member of ConCom, Art Aguilar, that their ConCom draft is there for all to tear up and mangle, as this is what a draft is for. And to paraphrase him, I would suggest that to discard it and a review the Centrist 2009 ConCom draft (with some amendments) sanctioned by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now Speaker of the House.000
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