MELBOURNE, Australia (MindaNews/05 August) — President Rodrigo Duterte won on a platform that included giving the federalization of the Philippines very serious consideration. Thus it is particularly curious that federalism only had a small mention in his inaugural State of the Nation Address (SONA). Although the Chief Executive seemingly revealed his preference to maintain the presidential system than change to the parliamentary form of government.
Nevertheless, there was a clear directive in the SONA for the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) “to undertake nationwide information and campaign on federalism in partnerships with various alliances and with LGU, civil society, grassroots and faith-based organizations.” But the content of this government-led initiative has yet to be defined.
Indeed, as far as the federal project of this administration is concerned we rely mainly on the President’s declarations to media, as well as that of his senior allies, that the first two years of his term will be used to determine the detailed structure of the proposed federal government. Their target is for the final product to be approved by the general population through a plebiscite in 2019.
The most recent development is the administration’s preference to revise the Constitution via the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) mechanism. This is a sudden shift that proponents of the Constitution Convention (Con-Con) pathway to constitutional reform are fiercely harping on. And I think as a compromise, the President’s camp has declared their openness to organizing first a Constitutional Commission (Con-Com) to function as a “council of wise men” to help the administration draft the new charter.
There is nothing inherently objectionable about these propositions when viewed in the broader context of constitutional reform. I submit however, that before the administration and their Congressional allies make a firm decision between Con-Ass, Con-Con or Con-Com, it would be more beneficial for Filipinos if they facilitate first a period of constitutional education for the general public.
Therefore, apart from the DILG fulfilling the command of the President in the SONA, his team of federalists can proactively encourage other federalism advocates to follow the example of former Senate President Nene Pimentel who is currently barnstorming all over the country sharing his knowledge on federalism.
Corollary thereto, they should urge schools, civil society groups, and other community associations to host these federalism experts. Correspondingly, members of these organizations are called to internalize whatever is said about the intricacies and complexities of a federal structure of government. In addition to this, I would also recommend these institutions invite those who have a contrary view or those who are sceptical of federalization to enable their constituencies to form a balanced and well-informed perspective.
Moreover, the President and his Congressional allies can implore the general public to seek out works by legal scholars on federalism such as BangsaFederal published recently by Atty. Jose Maria Z. Carpio. Moreover, Filipinos should also be actively following and analyzing the many articles being written about the federation of the Philippines. In other words, all of us should take the conscious effort to learn more about the different forms of federal government.
Simply put, the Duterte administration and their Congressional allies should dedicate the remaining months of 2016 to a comprehensive and widespread public debate and discussion on federalism. Indeed, they should ensure that a free and responsible exchange of ideas actually happen within this period. This will hopefully allow individual Filipinos to educate themselves on this massive constitutional reform.
I would also suggest that they strongly urge these federalism experts and even ordinary Filipinos to put their thoughts in writing and send it to every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. This way lawmakers and their staff will also be compelled to study the nuances of this highly contentious political undertaking.
And finally, as a way to celebrate the EDSA Revolution in 2017, I propose that both chambers of Congress hold a joint session and invite speakers from the community to give short statements on the proposed shift to federalism. Representatives from the youth, sectoral groups, academe, media, business, and local government are to be given a platform to express their views. Obviously, the purpose of this exercise is to apprise Congress of the pulse of the people on this issue.
Thereafter, Congress can make the decision between Con-Ass, Con-Con or Con-Com. For three reasons, I believe after undergoing such a lengthy and thorough discerning process, whatever path chosen by Congress will be one many of us can live with.
First, precisely because a rigorous and robust public discourse on federalism and constitutional reform had been undertaken by the general public, there is a very good chance that none of us will feel left out in the decision-making process. This will be in stark contrast to our experience with the 1987 Constitution.
Second, because Filipinos went through a comprehensive constitutional education process, each one us has been given a chance to form an educated view of proposed reforms. We are therefore equipped to actively engage in the drafting process for the new constitution.
Third, because in one way or another the public has been given the chance to express their views to Congress, we can confidently say that the democratic process was genuinely respected in arriving at the decision. There was no railroading similar to what happened to the 1973 Constitution.
Once again the foremost federalism advocate, Senator Nene Pimentel, is guiding us towards the right path. In a recent op-ed piece he wrote, “To incorporate the federal system into our governmental setup is no walk in the park. People must first of all understand the ins and outs of the proposal.”
It is utterly incumbent upon the administration to heed this advice from the wise old man. For if they do not, we might all end up in a situation far worse than we are in right now. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.”)