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Bacolod City, Philippines Thursday, July 7, 2016
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TIGHT ROPE
WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY

Con-Ass? Con-Con?

Tightrope

Even before Congress convenes this month, the legislators are already jumping over each other to show their obeisance to the new president by filing bills to start the process for the amendment of the 1987 Constitution. They are indeed intent in pleasing President Rodrigo Duterte.

I remember the time of President Ferdinand Marcos. There was this joke about how the president tested the loyalty of his coterie. He asked a top official, “Will you jump out of this building if I tell you to do so?” The general answered, “From which floor, sir.”

With the same predisposition of our legislator to bend to the desires of President Duterte, we can be certain that the Constitution will be amended or emasculated to please the power in Malacañang. Even Senator Franklin Drilon, considered to be the closest to the former President Benigno Aquino, filed the bill immediately to please Duterte's desire to have emergency powers aside from a constitutional amendment. Congressman Alfredo Benitez did the same in the House. Others rushed in to join the caravan.

Of course technically the people can reject the draft of the Constitution that we believe is not right, but with the idolization and benefits dangled on those who cater to the new president and the fear that has been engendered by the presidential threats to their interests, we can also expect that the draft will be approved in a plebiscite. Every politician wanting to ingratiate to the President will surely try to show that he or she has control in his district.

Indeed, we are seeing the first year of Martial Law when the 1972 draft Constitution was presented in a plebiscite and it was ratified without a hitch. Reports were plenty that in some places there was no voting only the raising of hands.

There were reports that people in barangay assemblies were asked whether they wanted to get rice. When they raised their hands photos were taken and used as a “yes” to the amendment. At the time the Philippines was suffering from a rice shortage that rationing was resorted to. Theproposed Constitution was approved that permitted Marcos to rule without term limit and exempted from prosecution.

There is a debate on what method will be adopted in the amendment or change of the Constitution. Should it be by Congress meeting as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) or should there be an election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con)?

The fastest method would be a Con-Ass where the Congress in joint session is converted into a constitutional body to amend the Constitution or even entirely throw it away and substitute it with whatever the solons agree upon. The Congress will be doing two things at the same time. One is the usual functions of the legislature and second is convening again to amend the Constitution. They will do this alternatively.

The Con-Con process is longer. The Congress will pass a law for that purpose and authorizing an election of delegates from each congressional district. The delegates will then have the sole or focused function of amending the Constitution.

There seems to be an inclination on the part of Congress to convene a Con-Ass while Duterte was reported to be in favor of a Con-Con.

There are many issues for and against the two processes. In the end the Congress will determine which one but my guess is that they will favor the Con-Ass because they will have their hands on the outcome, a Constitution that will be more favorable to their interests, political or otherwise, like removing the term limits.

Not so when it is the Con-Con. The delegates will be mainly independent, at least in theory. During the election for delegates the congressmen and senators will probably be prohibited from running unless they give up their congressional seats.

However, the politicians will still have a great influence on the choice of delegates because they have the resources and the machinery to make their candidates win. It would be difficult for an independent candidate to run against the politician-controlled candidate.

What kind of government will emerge in case we amend the Constitution? There is talk about a federal system with a presidential or parliamentary form of government. Duterte favors the federal system and in fact his legion has already adopted this crusade as their own preserve, the sole bearers of federalism and maligning others that also favor federalism.

We'll wait what happens.*

           

 

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