BEYOND THE BEND: Cha-Cha, RevGov and ML

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RevGov (Revolutionary Government) is now a discredited initiative given the anaemic public support it received last November 30, 2017. Although many political commentators still urge Filipinos to remain vigilant against threats to overthrow the existing constitutional order.

The Philippines’ system of democracy and economic regime are far from perfect. But as a democratic nation, we have achieved so much since ousting the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

It does not make sense to simply throw these gains away by reverting to authoritarianism, such as RevGov. It is even more confounding to mix this insane notion with the serious business of Charter Change (Cha-Cha).

Cha-Cha and RevGov are diametrically opposed to one another. The former is a legitimate process, whilst any outcome from the latter would always have questionable legitimacy.

It would be better then, to just focus our attention on the only proper way to implement the administration’s plan to revise the 1987 Constitution. Indeed, the only legal and democratic way to facilitate a fundamental change in our current system of government.

Curiously, there is no clear path yet for Cha-Cha being offered to the public. The Duterte administration’s Consultative Committee has only been partially formed. Hence, there is still no certainty as to when this group will commence with their work. Both chambers of Congress on the other hand, have vowed to continue with their respective efforts to determine the viability and practicability of undertaking Cha-Cha.

Meanwhile, Filipinos must ask if Cha-Cha should even be considered given that fellow citizens in Mindanao are preoccupied with fighting a rebellion. More importantly, President Duterte, with the support of Congress, has extended Martial Law (ML) in Mindanao for the whole of 2018.

Cha-Cha and ML are not a good mix as well. The memory of a President Ferdinand Marcos using his martial law powers to railroad the enactment of the 1973 Constitution, which then facilitated his 14-year authoritarian rule, continues to be a painful reminder.

Moreover, the likelihood of a “pre-ordained” draft charter being forced on us like the 1973 Constitution is very hard to ignore. And the possibility of suffering under a constitutional dictatorship all over again is utterly frightening.

For this reason, any plan to produce a draft constitution for ratification in 2018 should be shelved. We simply cannot have a plebiscite while Mindanao is under ML.

This does not mean stopping the Cha-Cha process itself. This year can be used by the administration as an opportunity to have a more coherent and organized education campaign. Obviously, this will be very challenging given that there are three competing groups now (Senate, House of Representatives and the administration’s Consultative Committee) vying to come up with a draft Constitution.

Nevertheless, it will still be more beneficial for the people if the federalism promoters of government rally behind one message only. The current set-up of different groups in the administration offering their respective versions of federalism is not helpful at all.

This disorganized approach just leaves Filipinos more confused about the proposal and less convinced that shifting to a federal system is the right step forward. Ironically, it could also explain President Duterte’s observation that many Filipinos still do not have a firm grasp of federalism.

But it is not just the administration who bears the responsibility of educating Filipinos about this massive constitutional reform. The academe, media and civil society organizations share this burden too. Obviously, a coordinated effort will be a big boost in the Cha-Cha process.

Former Senate President Nene Pimentel encapsulates how we should be treating this major reform undertaking. In his remarks during the launch of the book published by the Ateneo School of Government, Debate on Federal Philippines: A Citizen’s Handbook, he warns:

“The proposal for a federal system is not set on stone. Whether we adapt the federal system or not, it is up for the people to decide. That is why we need forums and discussions to engage the public. We should not leave it to the hands of the lawmakers.”

Here the grand old statesman is not belittling the capabilities of members of Congress to lead the Cha-Cha process. He is simply reminding Filipinos who should be the real driving force pushing this watershed reform initiative.  (Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LLM is a legislative and policy consultant, law lecturer, a Non-Resident Research Fellow in the Ateneo School of Government, and author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective. He is a regular contributor in various news and public affairs organizations in the Philippines and Australia.)

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