Call for change: PH constitutional revisions Rappler

Call for change: PH constitutional revisions Featured

Last of 5 parts

THIS five-part series started with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s fight with the oligarchy by closing down the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN Corp.; then a brief review of the Philippine oligarchy; political dynasty as its vital appendage; and establishing real political parties to impede the growth of this twin evil. This last article provides recommendations toward the eradication not only of the oligarchy and the political dynasties but for the other ills plaguing Philippine society. This invariably needs the overhaul of the 1987 Constitution to dismantle the scaffolding upon which all these are braced. I draw heavily from the Centrist Democrats (CD) ideological perspective calling for systemic changes to the political, economic and cultural underpinnings of Philippine society. The Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), the Centrist Democratic Political Institute (CDPI), the Young Centrist Union (YCU) and allied CD sectors have for decades been advocating for this restructuring (please access www.cdpi.asia).

Similar changes could have set PRRD apart from Presidents Fidel V. Ramos’ and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s half-hearted drives to revise President Corazon Aquino’s 1987 Constitution. Duterte was propelled to the presidency partly on his campaign commitment to a set of political reforms, including establishing a federal system of government. It was assumed that the President would keep his word, ushering all these under his promise of “pagbabago.” But somewhere along the way he dropped the ball, degrading his agenda into mere motherhood statements — amounting to nothing! But he can still redeem himself in the last remaining two years to orientate this administration’s trajectory, focusing on what is really important — uprooting the causes of the country’s tribulations. The repercussions will result in long-term positive impact on the country’s future, cementing his legacy, if ever.

Nary a serious historian, political scientist and economist will deny the country’s decline from the end of World War 2. From a prominent position as second only to Japan economically, we have begun to lose our preeminence among the nations in our region after we gained independence and regained our sovereignty. Currently, states and countries like South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, etc. are much ahead of us in three categories: GDP, global trade (exports/imports) and per capita income. For this decline, the temptation to lay the blame on the Filipino character is strong but ultimately false.

PH and Duterte need a reset

Thus, it is but fitting at this point to review and examine the premises surrounding this regression, unfortunate consequences of historical blunders bequeathed to us from our political past. The logical start would be the post-Spanish ascendancy when a concept, alien to the Filipino political psyche, was transplanted to these shores under American guidance and carried on to the Commonwealth period. At this point I burrow into our CD documents (A Call for New Leadership… www.cdpi.asia).

Democracy, a much revered and heavily Westernized concept, first took root in the virgin soil of Asia forcibly breaking the hymen of our political innocence within a short period of 50 years, when the same concept ironically took America more than 100 years to conceptualize and apply. The word doesn’t even appear in the 1776 United States Constitution. Yet this was the primary underpinning of our governance when we reacquired our sovereignty in 1946. But Ferdinand Marcos tore the concept to shreds during his martial law years. The EDSA Revolution in 1986 reestablished democracy but history’s verdict is still out whether what was restored was authentic or just a mirage — or even worth restoring at all.

But Democracy and its handmaiden, the untrammeled free market economy, married to our practices of traditional politics bore congenital deformities haunting us up to the present: “…hardening poverty, ongoing impunity, low competitiveness, weak rule of law, no real democratic participation of the citizens.” (CD documents www.cdpi.asia)

The political architecture handed down to us differed from that implemented in the US. Too much power was concentrated in the president and the executive branch dominating the legislature, subsequently distorting the principle of check and balance. The role of the president installed as the nation’s patron elevated the highest elective office in Philippine cultural tradition as the ultimate wellspring of patronage, thus impelling corruption in the bureaucracy and extending down to the local government units.

This unitary-presidential system imposed on us was arbitrary and experimental at best. America’s own was a federal government composed of autonomous states. Our centralized system concentrating decision-making process situates governance far away from the clientele, the Filipino people, alienating the populace, robbing them of their heritage as stakeholders.

All these iniquities complicate and characterize the Philippines as a weak state. It exposes the government’s inability to provide a modicum of security and maintain order although it has the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

The state is also unable to put in place a minimum of social security and universal health care for the weak and disadvantaged; or prevent environmental degradation and emboldens the over-consumption of precious natural resources depriving the same for future generations.

Centrist framework for pagbabago

These societal ills that existed for generations is by no means unsolvable. And President Duterte understood the magnitude of his task. His campaign commitment of “pagbabago” encapsulated these in his reform agenda. Among the crucial items is the revision of the 1987 Constitution. The CD group submitted to him our own framework which he allowed to be presented to the Malacañang Press Corps in September 2017. This is an abridged version of the guiding principles.

The CD credo is centered on our core value of human dignity, guided by principles of Christian and Muslim social teachings. Political, economic and social order must be so logically designed that the dignity of each person is protected and promoted. An atmosphere of freedom is a prerequisite upon which human dignity is enhanced. Self-determination by everyone, an essential component, is the impetus for collective expression toward the development of a just society.

These guiding principles can best be implemented through the following ideals: 1) a strict adherence to the rule of law; 2) a representative democracy based on program-oriented political parties; 3) a decentralized state structure with regional autonomy and local self-government, leading towards federalism; and 4) a “social market economy” with a well-functioning open market, protected by a strong state. (CDP/CDPI philosophy www.cdpi.asia).

The pandemic

And then Covid-19 burst into the scene! All these societal anomalies and distortions surfaced with abandon, exposing the failures in governance. PRRD and his team, handicapped by a military mindset, is incompetent to handle the tragedy. An unsuspecting deer caught in the headlights. With death counts rising, they are merely coping. And the strategy is simply to await a vaccine mixed with a copious amount of bluster. The repercussions to the country’s economy and well-being are incalculable.

Our biological and economic survival naturally trumps everything. But putting constitutional revisions and reforms in the backburner could be shortsighted. They are key to the short- and long-term solutions to the distortions our country faces. Absent these reforms, he and his legacy would be exposed for what it is, in the words of Walden Bello, his harsh critic “…an incompetent, blundering regime that relies on the deployment of coercion for everything.”

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