• Inverted federalism: Not a solution but a much bigger problem


    Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd is “alarmed” that 73 percent of those allegedly polled by one propaganda pollster know nothing or so little about the 1987 Constitution. He shouldn’t be. The late former President Cory Aquino did not know much about her own Constitution when she submitted it to the people for ratification. B. S. Aquino 3rd, who followed his mother as president 18 years later, showed not much better understanding of it either.

    Koko should be more alarmed that the people do not seem to mind that President Duterte would like to change the state’s unitary structure, which they know so little about, into a federal system, which they know absolutely nothing about, and that he expects the nation to fall in line, just because he is proposing it. Indeed, Koko should be more alarmed that the President, without any constitutionally assigned role in the process, is threatening Congress with dire consequences if it fails to dance to his beat.

    Last Friday’s headlines were sufficiently stressful. The Manila Times quoted PDU30 as telling Congress: “Do Cha-cha right or I will shut you down.” The Star echoed DU30’s warning to Congress, “Don’t mess with the Charter.” It was roughly the equivalent of the President’s repeated warning to suspected drug runners, “Surrender or get killed.” I have tried to point out repeatedly in this column that under Article XVII of the Constitution (Amendments or Revisions), the task of revising or amending the Constitution belongs solely to the Congress and the Filipino people, exclusive of any other authority or power.

    Why can’t we respect the Constitution?
    This cannot be said often enough until it is fully understood, or refuted authoritatively as completely false and wrong. But we find PDU30 acting as though he were fully in charge of the process instead of being a total stranger. This sometimes gives us the impression that the Constitution has already been set aside and is no longer there. But imperfect as it is, wantonly violated as it has been, the Constitution is still there. It can be abolished only by a revolutionary government, as in 1986; Section 18, paragraph 4 of Article VII of the Constitution provides that “a state of martial law does not suspend the operations of the Constitution.”

    As we are neither under a revolutionary government nor in a state of martial law, PDU30 will have to defer to Congress not just the power of the purse, which Aquino had usurped, but the lawful exercise of all its constitutional powers, even though its leaders may be his most docile followers. On their part, Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez must have the courage to assert their own powers, if ever so gingerly, as their way of supporting the President. They will have to make sure that their docility to their patron does not degenerate into sycophancy to the point of rendering them blind to his most obvious errors. Sound discretion is essential.

    Unfortunately, Alvarez may have failed his first test when he publicly declared that a constituent assembly (con-ass), instead of a constitutional convention (Concon), will propose a revision of the Constitution because it is what DU30 wants. In trying to pay homage to his master, the Speaker succeeded in painting him as someone with whom you cannot reason, and from whose word there is no appeal. Alvarez could have invoked and sought sanctuary in Article XVII, but he didn’t.

    As a layman and friend, I find it sad and painful to have to point this out to our highest officials, who are all outstanding lawyers, and who should know more than anybody else what the Constitution or the law says. This is so plainly stated in the law that it cannot be said to be one of those things which the good Lord has hidden from the learned and revealed only to the simple.

    In the last six years, B. S. Aquino 3rd wantonly violated the Constitution. The strength of the law was sapped by the power of the strong; the Judiciary destabilized; the Congress corrupted through the pork barrel and the constitutionally outlawed DAP to impeach and remove an uncompromising Chief Justice; and the three coequal and coordinate branches of government debased under Malacanang’s virtual control. Only B.S. Aquino’s inability to walk and chew gum at the same time saved the nation from falling under a full-blown dictatorship.

    What people expect of DU30
    People expected DU30 to end all of Aquino’s constitutional excesses. They held their breath, waiting for the promised change. But they never thought change would come in the form of daily headlines quoting the President’s order to the police to shoot certain targets on sight, or to suspects to surrender or get killed, and assuring the gunmen that none of them would ever go to jail for “doing their duty,” or that in case they were convicted in any court, they would be pardoned by the President.

    No human being could possibly be exposed to these occurrences as the nation has been exposed since July 1 without being brutalized and dehumanized. No expert may be able to measure their cumulative effects upon our people, but our own individual responses will show that we have been wounded to the core. A post from the Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, seems to illustrate this only too well.

    “I do not have to be a bishop to say this,” writes the Archbishop. “I do not have to be a Catholic to be disturbed by the killings that jar us every time we hear or watch or read the news. Lay aside the bishop’s robes and the CBCP position. I am only a human being. My humanity is in grief. I am in utter disbelief. If this is a nightmare, wake me up and assure me this is not true.”

    How many others share the same grief but do not have the words or the courage to express it? Nobody knows. But a young broadcaster fears the worst is yet to come, that the shoot-to-kill orders and extra-judicial killings will not stop at drug suspects. Next will probably be the jueteng lords, who seem to have been exempted from the present purge for now. The broadcaster recalls the famous Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) who spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps and whose words are inscribed in every Holocaust Museum in various places around the world:

    “First, they came for the socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionist, but I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

    “It could be like this,” he said. “First, they came for the drug pusher, but I did not speak out—because I was not a drug pusher. Then they came for the drug user, but I did not speak out because I was not a drug user. Then they came for those who knew any drug pushers and drug users, but I did not speak out—because I did not know any. Then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak for me.”

    People are afraid to speak out
    The fear generated by the killings could spill over into the issue of constitutional change, the broadcaster said, and none but the bravest would dare to oppose the killings or point out the flaws in DU30’s federalist move. That could be happening right now. But while I taste the same nausea in my mouth, as the good Archbishop does, each time I read about the latest killing or shoot-to-kill order in the name of the swiftest justice, I do not believe PDU30 is such an unreasonable man that he will not listen to the most sincere appeal to reason on a matter that affects the nation’s highest public interest and the common good. I will, therefore, attempt to address myself directly to the President.

    Mr. President,
    I believe we can agree that our Constitution is far from perfect, and that we need to make it as nearly perfect as possible. At the end of the 1935 Constitution, the great Claro M. Recto, chairman, described its handiwork as nearly perfect as any human document could be made perfect. However, Wenceslao Vinzons, the brilliant orator and patriot from Bicol, said it contained the seeds of its own destruction. Not many understood what Vinzons meant, but in 1972, upon the declaration of martial law, constitutional scholars finally understood what he said 37 years ago.

    Presidential system has problems, not unitary structure of gov’t
    Neither Recto’s nor Vinzons’s words could be said of the 1987 Constitution. It is full of defects, although not enough to imperil its very existence. But can we say that it suffers from a major flaw because it adopts the unitary structure of government instead of the federal, or the presidential instead of the parliamentary form of government? By no means. None of its flaws arise from the fact that it adopts a unitary or presidential system; rather they arise from the fact that it was begun as the draft constitution of a unicameral parliamentary government, but ended as the Constitution of a presidential government with a bicameral Congress. In other words, a square peg in a round hole.

    This is why it contains provisions meant for a unicameral parliament rather than for a bicameral Congress. For instance, it provides that Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members, may propose amendments to, or a revision of the Constitution, or by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a concon, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a concon. But it fails to mention whether in these instances the two Houses shall sit together and vote as one or separately.

    We modelled our presidential system after the US. But instead of copying faithfully its successful features, we adopted certain features which have since given us needless problems. In addition, our Supreme Court has been free to misinterpret the clearest constitutional provisions that need no interpretation, thereby killing those provisions and creating systemic dysfunctions. These I shall discuss in the second part of this article.

    An inverted federalism
    For now, we need to see that our main problem has nothing to do with the unitary character of our Republic, but simply how to make the presidential system work better. We would have needed to federalize if we were a group of independent states that wanted to become a united whole, like the first 13 states of the American union; but we are already a united whole, and the federalism PDU30 and PDP-Laban want would first subdivide the nation into several parts so that they could federalize later.

    It is an inverted federalism—federalism in reverse—a perversion of the concept, which unavoidably raises strong suspicions of pre-planned secessionism. With its vast resources, and the number of foreign governments, international banks and corporations raring to exploit those resources, Mindanao could easily become stronger than any other unit of the proposed federal union, if not the entire union itself. A unilateral declaration of independence, which Speaker Alvarez had advocated not too long ago, might not be long in coming.

    Inverted federalism carries, in Vinzons’s words, “the seeds of its own destruction.” I would urge you, Mr. President, not to stake your presidency on it; it would be costly and ruinous for the nation. (More later)



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    1. I totally agree with the substance of this article because no constitution can ever be perfect. My humble opinion remains that as long as greedy and selfish as well as Godless people rule the country, it doesn’t really matter what form of government we have in place. At least, Apo Digong is doing his best to do his patriotic obligation as leader with only the best interest of the Filipinos in his mind and always discerning ways and means to alleviate the living standards of the law enforcement agencies. I hope, and pray earnestly, that after his six-year term ends, our beloved Philippines will be a much better and more progressive nation to live in. God bless us all.

    2. branson denolo on

      you are obviously against anything about our president.. what he means about (do chacha right or i will shut you down) is that to remind our lawmakers to do it right to change the constitution for laws that would benifit the less previlage and not laws that is in favor of their own agenda..

    3. What I would like Mr. Tatad to explore, with his long standing presence in government, is the true motive behind DU30’s assault on the Constitution. Is it possible that the President is really way ahead of all his critics, his enemies if you will, and is in fact already thinking about his exit strategy, which in fact is no exit at all but a PDRR for life? Why would he toy with the Constitution at this point? I don’t think the whole point is to merely divide the country into pockets of Federal states, but to make sure that he would be ruling the country ’til the day he dies, knowing he and his minions are committing the most horrendous crimes against humanity.

    4. What a relief at least only 73% know nothing or little about the 1987 constitution ….. so 27% know or understand a square peg in a round hole enigma … would it be easier for 99% to know a round peg in a round hole equation as a federal system of unicameral parliamentary form of government ? ….

    5. The Great Defiant on

      people are beginning to understand…
      oligarchs few are controlling the country…
      revisit the constitution and dismantle the greedy few…
      de-centralize power, wealth, opportunity and resources…

    6. orlando braga on

      Talagang pag ayaw mo isang namumuno ay marami tayong masabi na dahilan na lahat na kanyang sasabihin at gawin ay walang ibigay na kapakinabangan. Magandang bagay naman kapag tayo ay nagpapahayag ng mga kuro-kuro upang sa ganon ay may paghuhunosdili sa mga hakbang na apektado ang ating kinabukasan. Gaano tayo kasiguro na ang Federalismo ay di angkop sa sambayanan Filipino samantalang subok na ang mekanismong yan sa ating mga karatig na bansa tulad ng Singapore,Malaysia at Europa. Tulad lang yan marahil ng pagbabago ng sasakyan ang pagmamaneho ay napagaaralan naman. Tagal na tayo sa kasalukuyang sistema di naman masama kung ating nang baguhin/palitan kung kinakailangan.

    7. cha cha should be discussed in detail and people informed. as the survey says most do not understand the constitution. this was evident during the persecution of arroyo. people applauded de 5 and benito boy sisi when they prevented arroyo to go for medical procedure abroad. people applauded de5 and benito for disregarding the order of the sc regarding the right of arroyo to leave the country without any court case filed against her. teach ins should be started to let the people aware of the changes to be made before they even vote to ratify a new constitution.

      It is a political conumdrum and worrisome stance to propose the change and switch of the present form of government from Unitary-presidential to Federalism.
      President Duterte and other advocates of Federalism, like Sen. Pimentel and Speaker Alvarez and members of Congress, will tinker the Constitution by amending it to supplant the current form of government (Unitary/Presidential/Republican)to a Federal government ( Presidential or Parliamentary) WITHOUT even knowing, explaining and studying the mechanisms, workings and political ramifications and societal effects of Federalism as a form of government.
      Just because Duterte had promised a shift to Federalism once elected without explaining how it works and how it be more advantageous than the current system, except him saying that Federalism will give more independence to the Mindanao areas without seceding from the Philippine political sovereignty, thus said to solving the intractable Mindanao Muslim conflicts. This assessment is despite the autonomy given to the AARM which literally works as a federal form as an independent political unit of the central Philippine government, yet did not solve the insurgencies and mistrust of central political leaderships by local officials.
      With Federalism in place, each city or province, as may be politically delineated, will just be managed and governed like AARM political unit, except with more political powers like self-government, budget,taxation, building and maintainance of its own infrastructure, own police force, among other things.
      The voting populace, in case of referendum, is also in a quandary as to how the Federalism works and affects them to intelligently evaluate the pros and cons of this new form of government to give them idea whether or not to choose the new system.
      The people are not politically matured, prepared and conversant, either educationally or informatively, to be governed under this new federal system especially as to processes of self-government. It may give more opportunity the intransigent and power greedy local politicians to create a warlord-like unit of government and family dynasty in every political unit- state, since they will be independent of the Federal Central-National government. Although the Federal government powers control the Armed Forces, Immigration, Foreign policy, Customs , Treasury/Central Bank, Agency that coordinates with each State government, enforcement of federal laws (civil and criminal), each State government is independent and virtually autonomous, free from the Federal National/Central government close control. As such, it canot discipline or terminate or dismiss a State official for bad governance.
      Federalism will be more expensive and costly for the populace as it will call for two of a kind ( Federal and State level) or duplicated body of organization or body like for revenue raising agencies, like two taxations, two police forces, reform of judiciary organizations (Federal and State level) two congressional or law-making assemblies, two audit, civil service and electoral tribunals, etc..
      The Federalism proponents must first thoroughly study the system and its advantages and explain, educate and disseminate them to the people before embarking on amending the Constitution changing the current form of government to Federalism.
      For me the switch to Federalism is premature, costly and opensopportunity for family dynasty, private armies, widespread corruption due to territorial segmentation to different political turfs and possible unmanageability of each created State by the Federal government, and inter-state conflicts and dissensions.
      To me, the present unitary/Prsidential/Republican form is still effective for national governance but must only strengthen the LGU by enacting laws to make them independent and free from control by central government in performing their own infrastructure with central gov’t. supervisions Supervisions and audit by COA.

      Jun Adan

    9. Jerry Galapon on

      Senate President Pimentel should be alarmed at the 27% who knows the constitution and DO NOTHING to improve the country. The 73% are common people like me, we don’t care what is in the constitution, what we care is progress…economic prosperity, peace, decent food on the table, streets free of crime, no corruption, no oligarchs (yumayaman na laway lang ang puhunan; mga illegal recruiter, manloloko, networking, we need protection of the government from these kind of people)!
      People are tired of political correctness, tired of “that’s what the law is” for those who have no money, for those who have money the law can be inverted.
      PRRD administration is awesome, fantastic, and doing things to benefit the common people, I don’t have to elaborate; watch the news, access the internet, open your fb account the people are happy with what PRRD is doing.
      If Federalism is the answer to achieve progress and peace, so be it. If necessary to break up this county into several republics (like Yuguslavia or the Soviet Union) to achieve prosperity, do it.!
      With regards to the CBCP nightmare, WAKE UP REMEMBER THE INQUISITION, millions died compared to PRRD campaign a few hundreds. All those who died in the name of the church or anti-crime/drugs campaign were collateral damage, pay the relatives of innocent victims for the guilty; DEATH was their reward.

      • The Great Defiant on

        we tend to be politically, constitutionally correct..
        we debate with such genius….
        and yet we remain poor, dirt poor…
        useless rhetoric’s…

    10. I think federalism is a bad idea.

      How is the country going to be subdivided? by the different islands? by the three largest regions, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao? by the different ethnic groups? by the dialects people speak? by the different customs and traditions?

      All these years, we have been trying to be united as one nation- so now we have to be subdivided?

      Then how do these subdivisions strive to exist financially? Do these mayors or leaders have the expertise or wherewithal to exist independently? (Compare this to the different states in the U.S.).

      This is a BAD IDEA. I hope more people will see this as a bad idea and I hope President Duterte will think about this more thoroughly.

      • Leodegardo Pruna on

        The reason for the Con-Ass or the Con-Con is for the people to ratify and therefore make sure that it is not PDU30 Constitution but the peoples constitution. PDU30 as President has to make sure that the rightful process proceeds. The former senator should not be alarmed as he was at one time in the past mastered the art of issuing and reading decrees. God save the Philippines..

    11. We started in a wrong foot and we end up limping from then on and no one seem to know why. The reason why I said this because you said it in your attempt to write to the president. All a long until the constituion was also revised in 1987 it does not fit well to our values, customs and traditions. In engineering the sudents were taught to know integral and differential calculus. Integral means to put everything into one form while differential is to disintegrate or split. So on the same line of thought maybe we should disintegrate and later integrate meanwhile through the experiences the Philippines had been through formulate the right form of government. Of course the check and balances must be first tackled to avoid the recurrence of defects and loopholes.

    12. This is must reading for the Du30 minions who salivates for every pronouncements he makes. Read and understands this articles or else you are abetting this country to perdition especially the extra judicial killing. Read and understand the real concept of Federalism, this specially goes to the Senate President and the Speaker of the house who are muted with fear of losing their respected official designation and over night becomes the ilk of the President. For the sake of our nations future, read and understand this article and be a judge…