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A peek into the new Constitution

Over the weekend I was privileged to be a moderator at a conference on “managing the devolved transition in the Philippines” sponsored by DILG and the International Forum of Federations.

The objective was really to learn from the experiences of Australia, Brazil, and Kenya in downloading authority and responsibilities from national to sub-national levels of government. This, in fact, is what is being contemplated in the proposed replacement of a unitary Philippine state with a federal one.

Where the conference got really interesting, at least for local attendees, was the preview offered into the current working draft of a new federal constitution for the country, courtesy of several members of the President’s 22-man consultative committee:

Businessman and economist Art Aguilar; retired General Danny Bocobo (my second cousin); lawyer Rodolfo Robles; professors Eddie Alih and Edmund Tayao.

The Con-Com aims to vote en banc on its final draft, item by item, at its final plenary session on July 9, after which the document has to hurdle three more decision-makers:

President Duterte, whose version based on the Con-Com draft will hopefully be done in time for his July 23 Sona;

Congress, whether voting jointly or separately, who’re expected to work closely from Duterte’s version when they write the actual final document hopefully by year-end;

The people themselves, perhaps by voting a simple “yes/no” on Congress’ document in a referendum scheduled for no later than the May 2019 mid-term elections.

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The Con-Com’s working draft is similar in many ways to the version originally submitted to them by the PDP-Laban Study Group, where I was privileged to sit. But there are also important differences, not to mention open or ambiguous issues that may have to be left to future legislation or the workings of the political process itself. Today, Independence Day, seems like a good time to take a peek at the proposed new Charter:

The biggest disappointment for us in the Study Group was the Con-Com’s decision, by just one vote, to retain the presidential system instead of shifting to parliamentary. Like every other official, the president and vice president will now serve two four-year terms and must be elected in tandem. To placate the mischievous, the term of the current President will explicitly not extend beyond 2022.

In addition to some 240 congressmen now elected by district, the Lower House will add another 160 elected by proportional representation. This replaces the current halfling called party-list system, under which the likes of security guards and home fuel dealers got to be classified as marginalized sectors.

The Senate retains all its current powers, but will now be regionally elected, two from each “federated region.” This unwillingness to clip redundant senatorial powers is an unfortunate instance when the objective of law-making efficiency had to yield to political exigency, i.e. passing the new Charter by keeping the current senators happy.

Including Metro Manila, those federated regions (not “states”) will initially number 18 but will be allowed to consolidate later into fewer regions if they wish. The Bangsamoro might be described as a “super-region,” with the Bangsamoro Basic Law serving as its regional constitution—a privilege that won’t be enjoyed by other regions.

The proposed BBL now being reviewed by Congress obviously has to conform with the current unitary constitution. But at a later time, the newly created Bangsamoro parliament may pass regional legislation to expand the BBL’s powers under a more expansive new federal constitution. We can only hope that this piece of legerdemain will be appreciated and supported by our Bangsamoro brethren.

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Within the judicial system, the Con-Com has differentiated the judicial process into four different workflow streams, each one headed by its own “high court”:

A Constitutional Court to rule on constitutional issues, including opining on the constitutionality of new laws still being considered by Congress;

An administrative high court to rule on questions of government administration, including inter-regional disputes;

An Electoral High Court to rule on issues of the electoral process;

And the present Supreme Court to rule on all cases brought up on appeal, which will be farmed out to “regional appellate courts” in order to unclog its docket and finally put an end to the days of “justice delayed, justice denied”.

One of the most interesting innovations of the Con-Com is the creation of an 11-member Federal Inter-Governmental Commission, to be chaired by a Presidential appointee and include the Secretaries of Finance and the Budget ex officio. The other eight members will be appointed equally by Congress, and by the 18 regional governors sitting together as a Council.

FIGC members must have expertise in constitutional law, public administration and finance, and/or local government. The new body will enjoy quasi-judicial powers in carrying out two key mandates: to administer the revenue equalization fund that equalizes opportunities between richer and poorer regions; and to resolve inter-regional disputes.

It’s evident that this FIGC will be a most powerful body. Together with the Administrative High Court (to whom its decisions are appealable), the Council of Regional Governors, and a regionally elected Senate, these are the key mechanisms by which the federalization process is intended to be institutionalized over the long term.

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Other bits and pieces from the working draft of the new Charter:

The Commission on Human Rights will join CoA, Comelec, and the Civil Service Commission as constitutional bodies with representation in every region. Leftists will be pleased that the CHR will also cover “socioeconomic” and “environmental” rights, while rightists will welcome the inclusion of non-State actors as potential human rights violators.

Self-executory prohibitions against political turncoats and political dynasties. This is part of the rafter of reforms earlier recommended by the Study Group in order to strengthen our party system and make democratic participation meaningful for a change.

Citizens military training will make a comeback, starting in Grades 11-12 on a compulsory basis. To all those armchair war freaks who keep agitating the rest of us to go to war with China over this or that island, now’s the chance to get your own kids involved in that adventure and put their lives on the line for you.

Readers can write me at [email protected]

Topics: DILG , International Forum of Federations , Art Aguilar , Independence Day
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