The draft federal constitution (3)

By Florangel Rosario Braid

The negative reaction to the draft federal charter was expected as earlier surveys had already indicated that 64 percent of the respondents did not want constitutional change. But we had not anticipated the persistence of the supporters of federalism in pushing for a shift . In fact, Malacañang and the House had expressed optimism that the people would accept change once they understand how the amendments would benefit them. Thus, the focus on conducting a massive information campaign.

The spokesperson of the Consultative Committee argues that the people would want change; not now, but in the future. It also looks like the House whose top priority is amending the Constitution, is preparing to organize itself into a Constituent Assembly. House Speaker Alvarez proposes that a law be passed which would either cancel or postpone the 2019 midterm election. And if the Senate does not agree, supporters of federalism could launch a people’s initiative.

How does one respond to an authority that refuses to listen? The oppositionists have decried the “arrogance and insensitivity” of those in power. Some senators had expressed opposition to any attempts at railroading the amendments.

“Do you hear the people sing,” asks former Press Secretary Edwin Lacierda, as he shared an eloquent argument on the stark difference between the circumstances behind the drafting of the 1987 constitution and those of today’s federal charter. “Despite the imperfections of our present charter, the latter, drafted by persons of integrity, laid down the hopes and aspirations of our people, and importantly, like Cincinnatus of Rome, and George Washington before her, when the time came to give up power, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino willingly did so even when the legal experts agreed that the prohibition in the Charter did not apply to her,” he noted. He compares this to our leaders today who, he said, were hungry for power.

Now, a majority of our people have spoken and they say they do not want change The surveys had further noted that 75% of our people do not understand the charter. This, despite the fact that it is taught in the schools.

At a recent joint committee hearing of the Senate, there was again a negative response to constitutional change. Not today, said some, and never, said others, saying that the federal structure does not have culture fit to our existing social and economic structure. The environment is not conducive to charter change and the government must attend to other priorities. Experts warned that the draft federal charter would give the President a basis to declare martial law. Inclusion of “lawless violence as a ground to declare martial law” in the charter was pointed out by two framers of the 1987 Constitution, former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide and SC Justice Adolf Azcuna. Former Constitutional Commissioner, Chris Monsod raised the issue of the implications of a surveillance warrant and the deletion of the phrase “guarantees full respect for human rights.” Another criticism expressed by former Rep. Colmenares was that of giving too much emergency rule power to the President.

Adding another convincing voice to the Senate hearing and surveys was the petition by a group of university presidents, professors, and professionals. While some were in favor and others were opposed to federalism, they were one in acknowledging the need for “evidence-based debate and discussion on the costs and benefits of charter change.

The proposal to amend the charter through a Constituent Assembly was viewed as self-serving since 80 percent of Congress is composed of political dynasties, and a majority of them may feel a conflict of interest if the new constitution calls for reforms that level the political playing field. There are fears about a federal structure , the discussions of which have been “too politicized and too rushed.”

If the government is serious about a shift to federalism, it must be ready and willing to listen to the people. It must bring the issues down to the grassroots in a format and content that they can understand and appreciate. The process must be consultative and dialogic rather than top-down. And leaders of government must be willing to wait for the right time.

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