Lawyer says ‘power grab’ possible via federalism

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MANDALUYONG CITY (MindaNews / 11 July) – President Rodrigo Duterte can seek reelection under a new constitution that will that will change the country’s form of government to a federal setup, a legal expert on Tuesday said.

Lawyer Antonio La Vina, former dean of the School of Government of Ateneo de Manila University, said that if Duterte does seek reelection, Charter change would mean a “simple power grab.” If this happens, “it will be a Duterte presidency until 2030.”

La Vina said there is no provision in the draft constitution prepared by Duterte’s handpicked Constitutional Committee prohibiting the president to run again.

This means Duterte and all the former presidents can opt to run again for the same post, he added.

The country has four living former presidents – Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III.

“We should oppose it because we don’t change the constitution for that reason,” La Vina, himself an advocate of federalism, told participants to a two-day national environmental dialogue that opened on Tuesday at the Crowne Plaza here.

He emphasized that while many of the ideas that found their way into the draft constitution came from former chief justice Renato Puno “It will be a Duterte constitution like it or not,” implying that the president will make changes to it as he wishes.

He said that during his third State of the Nation Address later this month, Duterte would tell Congress to convene as a constituent assembly and pass the proposed constitution.

La Vina, however, said he sees the Senate insisting that the two chambers of Congress vote separately on the draft Charter.

He said it’s possible that if the Senate will vote separately and junk the draft Charter, the House of Representatives would proceed with passing it and submit it to the people for ratification.

Short of saying that the Supreme Court has become beholden to the Palace, La Vina said that based on how it decided on the quo warranto petition against ousted chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, he sees the High Tribunal legitimizing such move by the House.

He said the SC could just rule that nothing can be more supreme than a ratification by the people.

‘Positive provisions’

La Vina acknowledged that the proposed constitution contains good elements such as the sections on political party development and the self-enforcing provisions banning political dynasties.

The draft Charter prohibits persons related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity from running simultaneously for more than one national and one regional or local position.

It prohibits candidates and officials of political parties from changing parties two years before and after an election. It further prohibits members of political parties elected to a public office from changing parties within their terms of office.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the ban on political dynasties needs an act of Congress, and there are no provisions prohibiting politicians and elected officials from changing parties anytime they wish to.

La Vina, however, expressed doubts Congress would approve these provisions.

‘Contradiction’

La Vina conceded that the draft Charter contains a “strong” Bill of Rights by including ecological, labor and other rights and principles of International Human Rights Law.

The Bill of Rights in the 1987 Constitution only provides for civil and political rights while the provisions on social, economic and cultural rights are found under the article of social justice, which requires legislation.

But La Vina said he sees a “contradiction between text and context” because Duterte “is worse than [President Ferdinand] Marcos” in terms of human rights violations by “massacring the poor,” apparently referring to the administration’s war on drugs that has claimed thousands of lives.

“Will our gains in human rights survive?” he asked. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)

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