Duterte administration to push Charter change
THE new administration led by incoming President Rodrigo Duterte is dead-set on a three-step push for Charter change that will “overhaul” the Constitution, a source said Sunday.
He will shift from presidential to a federal system of government and push for systemic structural reforms that will be finished in three years, said the source from the Duterte camp.
“The intention is not just to make piecemeal amendments but to virtually rewrite the fundamental law of the land. Duterte does not want a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the Constitution.”
The three-way push includes the formation of a Consultative Commission, the convening of Constitutional Convention and ratification via a plebiscite.
The source said Duterte will first constitute a Consultative Commission composed of people from various sectors, including retired jurists and academicians, to engage the public in discussions on the merits of shifting from the highly centralized unitary form of government to a nation composed of federal states or regions.
The public forums will engage the public in open discussions to forge a consensus on how the federal states will be composed.
“One concern, for instance, is the disparity in wealth among the existing 16 administrative regions,” the source said.
He said poor regions like Eastern Visayas or Caraga might have little to generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining.
The disparities must be addressed when proposing the number of federal states or regions to comprise the union, he said.
Another contentious issue is whether a federal government should adopt a parliamentary form of government or retain the presidential system.
Another possibility is adopting a semi-parliamentary form like the French system, where a popularly elected president handles foreign policy, defense, national security and monetary affairs, leaving the day-to-day implementation to a prime minister appointed by the president but concurred in by parliament.
“Filipinos have been used to electing their president, and depriving them of that right and delegating the choice of the head of state to members of Congress may not sit well with them,” the source said.
“This is the reason why the president-elect wants to first form a consultative group, so that the draft revisions may be vetted with various public sectors.”
Meanwhile, Congress will be asked to pass enabling legislation that will call for special elections to choose delegates to the Constitutional Convention.
No less than the presumptive Speaker of the House, Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, has expressed full support for a shift to federalism and has been quoted as saying he would push for enabling legislation in the 17th Congress.
PDP-Laban, the party under which both Duterte and Alvarez ran, had been advocating the shift to federalism long before the election campaign.
The second step would be the holding of the Constitutional Convention itself, the source said.
“How to ensure the various sectors are properly represented instead of being swamped by politicians and their families is critical,” he said.
The Convention will tackle so many contentious revisions, including the current restrictions imposed by the economic provisions that restrict the purchase of land by foreigners, and more importantly the issue of limits to foreign equity.
Duterte, the source said, favored lifting the restrictions on capital, especially since the economy needed foreign direct investments to create more jobs and livelihood opportunities for a huge population of 101 million.
However, the source said, Duterte had reservations about land ownership, concerned about how opening land to foreign ownership might push real estate prices so high that ordinary Filipino families, many of whom are landless, might be priced out of the market.
Duterte might want to push for safeguards through a National Land Use Policy before federalism set in, the source said.
The third step is the completion of the draft Constitution and its ratification by the people in a plebiscite.
“Duterte and his team would hope all these could be done within the first half of his administration, so that there will be adequate transition to the implementation of the new Constitution by the end of his term,” the source said.
But Duterte had always made it clear that he would just complete his six-year term elected under the present Constitution and would retire thereafter.
“By then, he will have made history through this radical shift from a unitary to a federal system of government. The Philippines has had a centralized government since the Spanish colonial period, carried through by the Americans, and further adopted under the Third Philippine Republic to the present,” the source said.