by Michael Aaron Gomez
Members of the Ateneo de Davao University community gathered for the Pakighinabi on “Constitutional Change and Federalism” Wednesday, 24 January 2018 at the Finster Auditorium.
Leading the discussion were Assistant Secretary Jonathan Malaya of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and Assistant Secretary Astravel Pimentel-Naik of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO).
The lead discussants highlighted the current administration’s vigorous campaign to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution and change the current unitary system of government to the federal model, as well as its possible benefits to the Filipino people.
“This is a grand bargain. The radical shift seeks to gradually cease the powers of ‘Imperial Manila’ and ‘end the Muslim insurgency in Mindanao,” Asec. Naik said.
Included in this bargain of federalism under the PDP-Laban working draft are making the anti-political dynasty provision in the present constitution self-executing, and supporting the development of strong and cohesive political parties by penalizing political butterflies.
The discussion also dealt with the potential of federalism to reduce Philippine inequality. Asec. Naik said of this prospect, “Philippine society has two faces—the rich Philippines and the poor Philippines—we want to change that.”
Asec. Malaya also stanched concerns about the potential of charter change to be a vehicle for term extensions for top officials, chiefly the president. “There is no intention of ten years of uninterrupted rule by Pres. Duterte,” he said.
“It [federalism] is not for the benefit of a person, but for the benefit of our generation and of future generations,” Asec. Malaya said. He also added, “Only under the Duterte administration can we make the painful changes we require as a nation—we will not be able to do this again.”
Asec. Malaya reassured the people that the PDP-Laban does not believe an entirely new constitution is needed, for only outmoded provisions have to be reviewed and tweaked to fit the possible new charter.
Numerous responses cropped up from the reactors. University President Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, wondered why the 1987 provision affording tax exemptions to non-stock, non-profit educational institutions was removed from the draft. He prefaced his question with a note that it is the government’s task to support education, private or public, because the Philippine educational system is complementary, and it is a common good.
“We have a small group of economists who looked at the economic provisions of the Constitution, and they are proposing a deletion,” Asec. Malaya said.
He added that he would ask his team to “look at it again, from the point of view of educational institutions, and the point of view of the DepEd and CHED.”
Atty. Cabarde also expressed his disagreement with using the constituent-assembly (Con-Ass) method of revising the Constitution, using as an example the congressmen’s refusal to “legislate against themselves” by eliminating political dynasties.
Echoing this opinion is Ms. Tetchie Aquino of the AdDU History and Political Science Department. “They might win credibility again if they eventually do agree on this [proposed] anti-dynasty provision,” she said.
Asec. Naik acknowledged the controversial actions of the congressmen, particularly the recent pronouncements of the House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, noting that “maybe he is just testing the limits of the 1987 Constitution.”
Mr. Jorjani Sinsuat of the Salaam Movement of AdDU also raised the question of whether the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will be passed before federalism.
“We have to give them [the Moros] a constitutionally compliant BBL,” Asec. Malaya said. “Watered-down for now, so that when we go federal we can give them the full Comprehensive BBL.”
The other reactors in the discussion were Mr. John Espino, President of AdDU SAMAHAN; Mr. Ramon Beleno, Chairperson of the AdDU Political Science Department; Ms. Khryzza Pinzon, Chairperson of the Student Council Alliance of the Philippines (SCAP); Atty. Rogelio Largo, President of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)—Davao chapter; Atty. Antonio Arellano, former Regional State Prosecutor and member of the GRP Peace Panel; and Atty. Vincent Montejo, of the AdDU College of Law. Assistant to the President for Research and Advocacy Atty. January Faye Bello moderated the discussion.
The Pakighinabi is a conversation series initiated by the Office of the President of the Ateneo de Davao University to provide members of the University community a platform to discuss multidisciplinary issues and concerns in a more informal and conversational manner. Its goal is to create a structure for conversations in the frame of social justice and the common good in the pursuit of forming AdDU sui generis leaders.