Charter changes must broaden the power of the people, not of politicians

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AL S. VITANGCOL III

THE House of Representatives will be resuming its session on Monday and, if we are to believe the pronouncements of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, its top priority for this year is to amend the Constitution to pave the way for the country’s shift to a federal system. By all indications, it seems that this would be done quickly without properly consulting, or minding, the heartbeat of the man on the street.

As planned, Congress will convert itself into a constituent assembly; propose amendments to the Constitution; and submit the amended Constitution to a referendum in May 2018.

I got a copy of the draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines, as proposed by the federalism institute of a major political party. The document consisted of 67 pages with some annotations on the proposed amendments.

Expanded power of politicians
The draft Constitution mandates that “the legislative power shall be vested in the Parliament of the Federal Republic of the Philippines which shall consist of two houses: the Federal Assembly, as the national legislative department, and the Senate, as the legislative representative of the regions.”


The Federal Assembly shall be composed of 400 members, 60 percent of which are elected by plurality votes and the remaining 40 percent elected through political party voting. Further, each region shall have three seats in the Senate. This effectively increases the number of representatives and senators from the present number. Meaning, a lot more legislators shall be in the people’s payroll.

What is appalling is the effrontery of these proponents to increase their term or tenure of office. The draft says, “The members of the Federal Assembly shall be elected to a term of five (5) years” for no more than two consecutive terms. Two consecutive terms mean serving for 10 years. At present, congressmen serve for a period of three years for no more than three consecutive terms. Thus, three terms at three years each is only nine years. Did you see the point? They will be campaigning for two elections only and yet they will be serving for a longer term of 10 years. This is an affront to the intelligence of Filipino voters.

Five years is too much for a non-performing legislator. Probably, two consecutive terms of four years each is feasible. The senators will likewise have a term of five years in the proposed amendment.

Where are economic and social provisions?
Much of the suggested amendments are focused on the instituted powers of the Federal Assembly, the Parliament, and the Prime Minister. Much is to be desired as to the “detailed” economic and social provisions, if there are, of the advocated Constitution.

Moves for Charter change were initiated in various past administrations and touted to address the economic provisions to attune the Constitution to prevailing economic conditions such as globalization, cross-border economies and the like. Yet, this draft Constitution lacks the needed amendments to its economic and social provisions.

The proposed amendments are all in broad strokes and generalizations, making it subject to various legal and technical interpretations. What is obvious is that “preference for Filipinos” was removed from the National Economy and Patrimony article. How about foreign ownership of our lands?

Constitutional commissions must be specified
The original three constitutional commissions—Civil Service Commission, Commission on Elections, and Commission on Audit—have been retained. No changes except that the word “Federal” was prefixed to their names.

It would be best to include other constitutionally protected independent bodies in the enumeration. For example, the Commission on Human Rights should be particularly specified in this article instead of being lumped with the section on social justice. Remember the discussions about the CHR in relation to its stand on extra-judicial killings? Its independence and constitutionality were being questioned then.

There is a glaring pro-politician amendment under this article. It is proposed that political parties be registered with the Federal Comelec and that “the Parliament shall by law provide state subsidy to registered political parties.” Where will the state subsidy to political parties come from? Of course, from the Filipino people.

Judicial structure should be amended
Recent events show that the judicial branch of government, particularly its structure and hierarchy, is no longer effective in performing its constitutional mandate. The ongoing impeachment proceedings against the Chief Justice is a good example. Another is the sudden acquittal of the accused in the Ortega slay case – the Supreme Court resolved in favor of the prosecution and then suddenly the Court of Appeals rendered a decision discharging the accused, all in the middle of the trial proper.

This would not happen if we had an institutionalized jury system. As it is, criminal indictment is in the hands of a single prosecutor, resolution of the case rests with a lone judge, and appeal takes forever.

There were only three recommended amendments pertinent to the judiciary. One is the establishment of a “division of the Court of Appeals to hold office permanently in every region.” Second is that the salaries of the justices “shall not be subject to income tax.” These are minor changes and totally unnecessary for improving the performance of the judiciary.

Lastly, appointment to the Supreme Court and all lower courts shall be based on a list of nominees as approved by the Senate. This injects political color to the appointments of judges and justices. As much as possible, there should be no political interference in the appointment of these magistrates.

If I may suggest, a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) should be established, composed of individuals – not politicians – who will screen and shortlist the candidates for the judgeship positions. The shortlist shall be final and not subject to the approval of the Senate, or any political body.

The proponents of the constitutional amendments are duty-bound to ensure that the lowly Filipinos are empowered. Incorporating a jury system in the judicial framework is one such act.

A Constitution of the people, not of politicians
I expected to see the geo-political boundaries of the regions and the structure of the local governments within the Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines. However, it was nowhere to be found. There were general discussions and motherhood statements.

The people must see how the Philippines will be divided geographically to suit the federal form of government. The governed must know who will govern them locally – particularly the local public offices involved and the political structure attendant to it.

I am not against a federal form of government. But, I am against rewriting the Constitution to expand the power of the politicians.

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