Charter change, anyone?

Once again, the matter of a charter change is being floated around at the highest levels of governance – with no less than the Senate uncharacteristically endorsing its own Senate Resolution No. 10 and signed by 12 senators and still counting. “It’s all systems go for Charter Change” – so it’s said as though it were a sweet inducement in the sense of a Skinnerian schema. On the other hand, it can send signals that what the ‘powers that be’ really want is to reduce the fulcrum of power one of perpetuity with PGMA as its most favored patron. Whatever is the motive for this move of changing the Constitution when there was no hint whatsoever in the president’s last sona on this crucial issue challenges reflection. In a political culture dominated by the principle of numbers, the tyrants win the day. The votes will mirror that the Senators as the congressmen of Congress have unanimously agreed to erect a change in the fundamental law.

Senate Resolution No. 10 is yet to be deliberated upon or a similar bill at the Lower Chamber of Congress on a paradigm shift – from our present Constitution to a Federalism making 11 federal states with Manila as the Federal Administrative Region. Senators Villar, Pimentel, Angara, Biazon, Pia Cayetano, Enrile, Escudero, Estrada, Honasan, Lacson, Pangilinan and Revilla signed this mere Senate resolution that would set the stage for a Federal Republic of the Philippines. Not too convincingly however, they want us believe that such a move is designed to actually dissipate central authority down to the local set up as though more powers will be given at the lowest tier of governance. Unabashedly enough, the presidential spokesperson even claims that such charter change actually supports that controversial Memorandum of Agreement or that which would create a Bangsamoro State. The shift to a federal form of government, the theory claims, will bring lasting peace in Mindanano. This ought to be one of Ripley’s Believe it or Not.

No one seems to recall how then Speaker Jose De Venecia was batting for a charter change under the concept of a shift to a parliamentary form of government. As to whether the federalism proposal is woven from the same thread – is still unknown at this juncture. The latest developments point to the fact that a pattern of withdrawal now occurs with the original signatories withdrawing their support to Senate Resolution No. 10. What seems to be the preferred constitutional route for a charter change is the convening of a Constituent Assembly and both House of Congress seem agreed. Certainly, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales has always been optimistic that such change can still happen in PGMA’s term but enough of Ripley’s.

Malacanang has to disabuse our minds that there will no such thing as a surgical amendment to the Constitution or that it will sneak in amendments to the new Charter that will in effect, extend the term limits of the president. This seems to be the single stumbling block to the success of such a Palace-sponsored move of a shift to a federal government. In the same breadth, it seems a mere ploy the official position that a federal form of government will address or in fact put an end to the Mindanao conflict. There is inherent danger in this kind of analysis since the creation of a Bangsamoro state will always undergo long period of debate and in the end, the Palace will not have to accede to what they will propose. There has never been an end to this problem of peace nor can it be micromanaged via a federal government system. For as long as Mindanao heavily subsidizes Luzon and for as long as Mindanao is always shortchanged by government in terms of ‘social dividends’, the Mindanao conflict always is here to stay. More than the political dimension, the economic side of the ledger ought to be carefully studied and resolved in their favor.

Consider for a moment that Manila would be the new US Washington, D.C. and the Bangsamoro is actually one of 11 federal states, meaning, at long last, we have Bangsamoro as a Juridical Entity in the whole scheme of things. More authority will be dissipated down to the local set up thereby allowing Mindanao as similar other federal states a decentralized form of governance. How far will decentralization go? How far will centralization allow? There will be more questions asked than answered once we go for a charter change. First, there will be massive revisions in the various Articles contained in the 1987 Constitution. There will be amendments that will undergo long debates unless the tyranny of number will the prevailing intellectual culture if only to railroad such a move.

For want of peace, we will erect a new Constitution. And such move presupposes that there is already a proposed new Charter, a new Constitution altogether – that no one has yet seen except those in Congress. There ought to be that version from the Senate as there ought to be another version from the House of Representatives. Has anyone even as much as outlined for the viewing public what the new Federal Republic of the Philippines is all about? Everybody just seems to point to Mindanao as the culprit of it all. How good indeed can we pattern our new Charter from that of a so-called ‘Model Democracy’ that is the Swiss Cantonal System? Where is the stimulus coming from in this seeming mad race for a new form of government? Did Swiss President Pascal Couchepin really believe the myth or sense of hope expressed in our official peace theory?

RP is no Switzerland. As a people, we have yet to evolve as a mature democracy starting the highest levels of governance. Until then, it will be a treacherous social experiment to tinker with the present Constitution as though it has turned entirely useless just because we heard bullets fired and houses burned in some remote barangays in North Cotabato? It bears watching this vicious issue of a Charter Change as it simply gathers more steam than heat. Majority is not always right until it does right. The numbers game ought now to be an intellectual taboo, pray tell. Still, before push turns into shove, people would have decided in a plebiscite called for the purpose. Pray tell, we Filipinos decide wisely.

UP Diliman, Quezon City