Light at the tunnel's end: Reviving Cha-Cha TMT

Light at the tunnel's end: Reviving Cha-Cha Featured

JUST when the Centrist Democrats, particularly the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), were losing hope at the end of former president Rodrigo Duterte's term when he dropped the ball on constitutional revisions, we had our expectations revived with the pronouncements of Sen. Robin Padilla who topped the Senate race on a platform championing "federalism and parliamentary government" and his mantra of welcoming foreign direct investments (FDI). As always, Filipinos love populist candidates adopting trendy but complicated issues — stabbing in the eye the snobbish 20 to 30 percent of the citizenry who dismisses the good senator for being a "mere actor" incapable of understanding or following through on issues that require heated debates on the Senate floor in the language of the cognoscenti — English — not in the vernacular which most senators are incapable of speaking or are plain incompetent in.

It was a sad memory for our citizenry that one of the major cogs preventing discussions and debates on constitutional reform was the erstwhile Senate chairman of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments — then senator Francis Pangilinan, who since 2019 sat on various constitutional amendments. He had to kowtow to the Liberal Party line upon the ascendancy of the then lamented President Benigno Aquino 3rd who declared that nary a "comma or a word" be changed in his mother's 1987 Constitution.

CD revival

Thus, the drowning Centrists grasped at straws on an actor's mouthing the correct idioms of the reformist who may not be articulate in English but possessing the language of the common man — the eventual beneficiary of constitutional reforms. Senator Robin Hood's (he insists on this nom de guerre) knowledge of parliamentary-federal government may not be book-learned or classroom-induced but simply experiential and anecdotal. Accordingly, his stay with his family in Australia gave him a glimpse of how federalism and parliamentary government work for the masses. His knowledge of the intricacies of the system may have been supplemented by the various Centrist groups and advocates of Fed-Parl, particularly the CDP, the CoRRECT Movement and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI).

But in this 19th Congress, we have a more experienced and knowledgeable advocate in the lower house and possibly the most hardworking congressman, the president of CDP himself, Rufus Rodriguez, who has been advocating for a shift to federal-parliamentary government from the onerous unitary-presidential system that has stymied our socioeconomic-political development for decades and embedded systemic anomalies in the 1987 Constitution.

This tandem, a tyro in the Senate and an old hand and expert in Congress, could prove formidable, orchestrating the right symphony on constitutional revisions long silenced by the conservatives, the dynasts and the traditional politicians in both houses.

It is a great help too that the current speaker of the House, Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, is an advocate himself and an acolyte of the former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) who initiated the 2005 ConCom.

The same advocacy can be attributed to the current president of the Senate — Migs Zubiri — a Mindanawnon and passionate federalist though his views on parliamentary government have yet to be fleshed out.

Both chambers may be ready to instigate fundamental changes with the support of the Centrist (CD) groups and reform-minded advocates among the citizenry. But one crucial ingredient is still lacking: the full support of the executive branch — President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. himself.

Contrasting SONAs

The new president did deliver a good SONA — comparatively better than his predecessor — the contrast vividly accentuated by the absence of cuss words, PI, misogynists remarks, referrals to penises and vaginas, and passionate emphasis on a jaded recurring theme "...if you destroy my country, I will kill you ... I will really bring you down because I love my country."

After the failure of the Duterte administration on constitutional reforms, his parting words, wryly directed to the next administration hardly resonated, coming out instead as a phony sad afterthought.

"Sa totoo lang, kailangan natin baguhin na ang Constitution. Eh nasa sa inyo 'yan (To be honest, we need to amend the Constitution. But it's up to you)," Duterte said in a speech in Batangas.

He said proposing amendments to the Constitution could either be done through constituent assembly (Con-Ass) or constitutional convention (Con-Con).

"The Constitution is not really a perfect one. I would not say it is the worst Constitution, but we have copied that from America word for word halos (almost) when we established the Republic in 1947 naging Republic of the Philippines tayo (we became the Republic of the Philippines)," he added. (PNA, April 4, 2022.)

But last July 25, what the Centrist constitutional reformers awaited with bated breath never came out from BBM's first SONA. No mention of constitutional revisions or mimicking his father's parliamentary government initiatives contained in Ferdinand Marcos Sr.'s 1973 Constitution. The rest of the SONA was a roadmap to what he intends to do in the next six years. Very wide-ranging relevant, appropriate and in some cases inspiring. But no Charter Change recommendations!

Failed Cha-cha initiatives

It may be recalled that a long history of failure to revise the 1987 Constitution, from FVR's Porma to Erap's Concord, to GMA's and Duterte's 2005 and 2017 ConCom may be attributed to the psyche of those that promulgated the original Cory Constitution. It was more a reflection of the rejection of the martial law regime that the 1987 Constitution was fashioned after and carried over into several administrations. The dictatorship booted out by Cory threw out anything connected to it — the baby along with the bathwater, the good along with the bad. Thus, a mongrelized version of a basic law that retained the unitary system.

A better version of the parliamentary government provisions espoused by the dictator in his 1973 Constitution was rejected by the 1987 Basic Law — losing out to a presidential government by a single vote on the constitutional convention floor. But some anomalous provisions were retained either for lack of material time or simply by neglect and stupidity. The party list which is best suited for a parliamentary system was inadvertently left untouched — thus producing the current party-list anomaly that even the former president Deegong called a "useless and stupid concept," calling for its abolition. What was then intended for the marginalized sectors are being used by rich influential politicians, political dynasties, the generals involved in the narcotics trade, and the legal fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines to subvert the government.

Ghosts of the past

Pirma, Concord and the two ConComs of 2005 and 2018, although pushed by their respective presidents, never had the cooperation of both houses of congress and died in the committees, never seeing serious discussion in plenary. The dissonance in both chambers of Congress drowned out the advocacies of a substantial portion of those who may have understood that central to the problems besetting Philippine society were really the systemic anomalies imbedded in our basic laws.

Both houses now have heads of the appropriate committees that can usher in serious discussions of constitutional revisions — Rufus and Robin Hood.

The question now is, will BBM follow through — with the original intent of his father embracing parliamentary government — the 1973 unicameral legislature, the Batasang Pambansa?

 

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