Changing the Cabinet and the Constitution

As the Duterte administration is being assembled, I am staying away from commenting on the individual strengths and weaknesses of the names that have been proposed. Suffice it to say that there are good people in the incoming cabinet—with solid and stellar qualifications such as Carlos Dominguez, Art Tugade, Jess Dureza, Bebot Bello, Ernie Pernia, Salvador Medialdea, and Jun Evasco. I am still hoping that Gilbert Teodoro will eventually agree to serve in government again. And if, among others, Bayan Muna stalwarts Satur Ocampo (for agrarian reform), Liza Maza (for social welfare and development), and Carlos Isagani Zarate (for environment) are appointed, that would be really good for the basic sectors and a militant movement that must now learn to govern for the good of all stakeholders.

Certainly, the fact that a majority of the cabinet will now be Mindanawons is a positive development. Like the president they will serve, these Cabinet members will bring a different, non-imperial Manila-centric perspective to governing our country. It’s about time this happened. Indeed, it is good that for the first time, we will likely have a president and vice president that have not lived in Metro Manila for a good period of time and have spent most of their professional and personal lives in provincial cities.

The one constructive criticism I would raise about the emerging cabinet is its lack of diversity in age and gender. I hope the incoming President would fill up the remaining slots with people in their forties, including good women.

For youth, I am hopeful that someone like former Sarangani governor Migz Dominguez is appointed as local governments secretary. There are many others like Migz, active in the Duterte campaign, who are waiting in the wings to be called.

I assume that a post is being reserved for Leni Robredo. Although I will not call Leni the presumptive vice president as there has been no concession yet from Bongbong Marcos, its easy to foresee that she will be proclaimed soon and Marcos would have to file an electoral protest at the Presidential Electoral Tribunal.

Like President Aquino, I will personally not criticize President Duterte for at least a year on governance and political decisions. I will if course participate in policy debates on human rights, climate change and environmental issues, and other important topics.

I encourage constructive opposition now from other citizens. It is sad and frustrating that much of our political elite have shamelessly abdicated their responsibility to fiscalize, with a majority in the Liberal Party joining the Duterte 

coalition majority in the House of Representatives while the party itself becomes the minority in that chamber. What a strange political animal the Liberal Party has become, and what a waste of resources and energy to build up such an organization for six years only to see it decimated in 10 days.

What is happening now in our politics is not however the fault of the party and its members. It’s the 1987 Constitution that ordains such distorted politics and that is why we must begin the work of changing the charter right away.

I am excited that under a Duterte presidency, two long-term political goals I have desired that I did not think was achievable within my lifetime are now within reach: a permanent peace settlement with both Moro and national democratic revolutionary movements and a federal-parliamentary system of government. In the 1970s, I thought that the Marcos dictatorship would last forever and that the US military bases would always be with us. Before I turned 30, they were gone, even as we still deal with its vestiges as in the case of the electoral return of the Marcoses and the VFA/EDCA debates. Could it be possible before I become a senior citizen (that’s a few years from now) that we will have permanent peace and will be able to establish a federal and parliamentary government?

On constitutional change, I start supporting the following: (1) a shift to federalism which creates states and/or regions which will have real power, and designed to end centralized control over budget and other governance decisions; (2) a French-style parliamentary system with a president having limited powers (foreign policy, defense, dissolution of parliament, and ceremonial functions) and elected through a run-off system so majority vote is achievable; 3) a parliamentary system that is principally party-list but with a possibility for individual preferences, bicameral but with a regionally elected and not a nationally elected Senate (so that less populated regions or states are not unfairly disadvantaged all the time; (4) a single, unified, and independent legal and judicial system with one Supreme Court except for the Bangsamoro, Cordilleras, and other indigenous peoples’ areas which, subject to reserved areas of law, may have their own customary legal and judicial system.

I believe that federalism can be implemented without fear of dynastic rule if done with safeguards. Anti-dynasty features can be easily integrated into a parliamentary system which is anchored on political parties.

Aside from governance changes, I am in favor of liberalizing the economic restrictions on such areas such as public utilities, media, and the professions while keeping the current restrictions on land and natural resources.

I would like to have an expanded bill of rights and more effective remedies for their implementation.

I would like practical clauses on petition, initiative and referendum that would allow the people to directly participate in governance without the current restraints that make it almost impossible to do successfully. I am also in favor of changing the constitutional amendment process to make it easier to make modifications that might be required in a fast-changing world.

I am open to change these preferences based on policy evidence, cultural appropriateness and practicality, including ratifiability. I am hoping academic institutions will do the research and provide the policy analysis we need to make the right institutional choices.

Process-wise, a constitutional convention is a better approach. These are not just amendments or revisions but the writing of a new constitution. I also cannot see the possibility of both houses of Congress getting the 3/4 majority (18 senators) needed to adopt a progressive constitution. Even a 2/3 majority (16 senators) to call for a constitutional convention is a tough proposition. But a majority of both houses, the vote necessary to send the idea of a constitutional convention for decision by the people in a referendum, is doable.

In any case, an appointive constitutional commission should still be convened immediately after inauguration to do the groundwork—explore options, galvanize popular support, and be the political and educational arm of the president to press this agenda.

Ideally, Congress should enact the legislation for a convention by October 2016 in time for the barangay elections and have the delegates elected at the same time so it can convene by January 2017. It can take a year to draft a new constitution and the goal should be to have a plebiscite by June 2018 before the filing of candidates for the 2019 elections. Hopefully, in 2019, we would elect our first federal and state parliaments.

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Topics: Dean Tony La Viña , Changing the Cabinet and the Constitution
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