No elections?

Former Vice President

As expected, the draft federal constitution prepared by a presidential commission sailed straight into a storm of controversy upon the release of the entire draft to the public.

The criticisms spring from two issues.

The first covers key provisions of the draft charter, namely the number of federal states and the anti-dynasty provision. On this front, the members of the commission — all eminent personalities personally chosen by the President — can hold their own in a fair and sober debate. Take away the hate, acrimony, and name-calling and we might have an opportunity for an honest national discussion on federalism.

The second issue, unfortunately, is beyond the control of the commission.

I speak of the resurrected proposal to postpone the 2019 mid-term elections and extend the terms of all incumbent elected officials.

The no-election track is not new. Early this year, two congressmen sought to postpone the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections scheduled for May. They argued that legislators needed time to concentrate on the shift to federalism, the same argument now being invoked by the no-election proponents.

The plan did not garner support in the Senate then and I doubt if the senators, even if enticed by term extensions, would back a no-election scenario for 2019. The short-term gain would be terribly offset by the long-term loss, which is the dissolution of the upper chamber.

Faced with the Senate’s intransigence, a People’s Initiative or PI to amend the Charter has been floated as an option.
While PI is one mechanism for amending the Constitution, the process itself is cumbersome. It has to meet specific conditions set out by the Constitution, foremost is that the initiative must be supported “by at least 12 per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.”

More importantly, our past experience with this mechanism has been tainted by controversy.

A so-called People’s Initiative mounted in the past with the end in view of term extensions was marred by documented reports of bribery and falsification of signatures. In Makati, those behind the PI enticed residents with grocery items in exchange for signatures. They also used the names of dead residents, taken from the local cemeteries, and passed them off as legitimate signatories.

The People’s Initiative track, however, has been subsumed by the push to cancel elections. And while Malacanang had gone on record as preferring that elections push through, it did say it will not interfere with the wishes of Congress.

A recent Pulse Asia survey showed low public support for Charter Change and federalism. Malacanang remains unfazed by the dismal results. The survey results only underscore the need to educate the public, they said. But this statement refuses to acknowledge that since last year, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the ruling party have been loudly trumpeting its nationwide roadshow on federalism, complete with full-page advertisements in major newspapers. All the resources invested for this roadshow have apparently failed to convince the public.

The proponents of federalism are clearly running out of time. Even if, for the sake of argument, the date for the filing of Certificates of Candidacy (COC) is moved to a latter date, the proponents would still have to contend with senators from both majority and minority blocs who are practically immovable in their opposition to Charter Change.
Proponents are also facing a growing coalition of people’s groups opposed to Charter Change and federalism. More daunting is the challenge of convincing 67 percent of the population to support Charter Change.

There is persistent talk, however, that the House will force a shift to a federal constitution even without the Senate. Once challenged legally, which is a certainty, the proponents will simply say that the matter should be left to the Supreme Court.

Should this happen, we foresee greater political uncertainty in the coming months.

Revising our Constitution will remain a contentious and divisive issue as long as it is left in the hands of incumbent politicians. That is why I have always been in favor of a Constitutional Convention.

Our present predicament should also prod the administration to ask if the issue of changing the form of government is worth the acrimony and discord when the focus should be improving the people’s welfare.

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