Ever since the Constitution was drawn in 1987 in the aftermath of the EDSA People Power Revolution, several attempts have been made to revise or change the Constitution. The most common reason for a charter change was the extension of the president’s term, which was originally set for a single six-year term. For some reason those elected were bitten by a “presidential bug” that afflicted them with a desire to stay in the office longer than six years.
The idea of extending the president’s term began with the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos who declared martial law in 1972 prior to the expiration of his second term. He remained in office until 1986 when the people who became fed up with his corrupt and brutal regime ousted him.
The late President Cory Aquino was the first to serve under the single six-year term. Close to the end of her term, many of her supporters encouraged her to run for a second term arguing that she was not covered by the single six-year term imposed by the 1987 Constitution. She refused to run. She also opposed attempts to amend the Constitution to do away with term limits; thus, allowing the reelection of incumbent presidents. Her successor, Fidel V. Ramos tried to amend the Constitution by pushing for an initiative. The initiative failed and never went beyond first base.
Gloria’s game plan
In my column, “Betrayal of EDSA” (June 9, 2009), I wrote: “In 2001, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power by way of a sham People Power revolution that deposed president Joseph Estrada. The people unwillingly relented hoping that Gloria would turn the country around. But within a few days after she took over the presidency, a major corruption scandal occurred involving Gloria’s Secretary of Justice. Evidently, corruption was seeded into her administration the day she took over the presidency. EDSA was betrayed. They used her to gain power for themselves.
“With one year left in her term of office, many people are convinced that Gloria would do whatever it takes to remain in power beyond 2010. [In 2006] she almost succeeded in getting a Charter change approved through a people’s initiative. However, the Supreme Court rejected the legality of the people’s initiative. [Had the Supreme Court voted in favor of the ‘people’s initiative,’ Gloria would have been the country’s Prime Minister by now with an open-ended term of office. That is, as long as her political allies in Parliament would support her, she’d remain in power… indefinitely].
“On May 28, 2009, Gloria merged the Lakas-CMD and Kampi parties into one under her leadership. Right after the ceremonies merging the two largest political parties, the word was that Gloria talked to the congressmen behind closed doors. According to leaks from insiders, her marching orders to them were to pass House Resolution 1109 as soon as possible. HR 1109 would convene the House as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) for the purpose of amending the 1987 constitution… without the Senate. According to news reports, Gloria supposedly promised each congressman P20 million for his or her ‘yes’ vote on HR 1109.
“On June 2, the House of Representatives passed — nay, railroaded — HR 1109 by voice vote. The debate was cut short denying the few oppositionists an opportunity to speak out against HR 1109. But what could the handful of oppositionists have done? Tyranny of the majority prevailed. Once again, EDSA was betrayed.”
HR 1109 triggered massive protest rallies against the attempt to rewrite the Constitution, which was perceived to be a move by Gloria’s allies in the House of Representatives to extend her term beyond June 2010.
With cha-cha stopped on its track, Gloria’s allies pursued another avenue — they pushed her to run for Congress. She did and has been member of Congress since then. Now she is posed to take another shot for a national office in conjunction with Duterte’s push for a charter change to replace the form of government to that of a federal system before the 2019 elections.
According to news reports, a draft of the new constitution is in the works. There are also plans to call for a joint session of Congress, which would be converted into a constituent assembly (con-ass) to revise the1987 Constitution. The body would then produce a draft of the proposed federal constitution, which would then be submitted in a plebiscite during the May barangay elections.
However, many believe that with a tight timetable, there might be attempts to cancel the 2019 elections for senators, congressmen, and thousands of local officials. Known as No-El (No Election), it is expected to entice holdover national and local officials to go along with it. But if Duterte fails to pursue No-El, well…. Duterte could always declare a revolutionary government (rev-gov). With members of Congress on his side and the military could be “bought,” only the Supreme Court could stop him, unless he makes a move to abolish the Supreme Court.
Incidentally, recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) polls show that a large number of Filipinos disagree with Duterte’s plan to declare rev-gov. They found that 39% disagreed, 31% agreed, and 30% were undecided on declaring Duterte’s anti-‘destabilization’ provision over the country. But regardless whether the people agreed or disagreed, Duterte is believed to be bent on declaring a rev-gov if that would achieve his agenda, which many believe was taken from a page out of Marcos’ playbook.
It is interesting to note that Gloria would seem to play an important role in Duterte’s plan. It’s been often mentioned that the federal system that what Duterte had in mind would be a parliamentary form of government. If such is the case, then more than likely a prime minister would serve as the head of government while the president would remain head of state. Or it could be similar to the French template, which has a strong president that sets policy and a prime minister that runs the state bureaucracy.
Gloria is a trusted confidant of Duterte, which would ensure strong working relationship between the two should they share power as president and prime minister.
But what is unusual in their seemingly strange relationship is that Duterte is a hard-nosed anti-corruption crusader while Gloria had presided over one of the most – if not the most – corrupt administrations in the Philippines. It would be hard to imagine how they could work together in that kind of environment.
With Duterte and Gloria working in tandem, it would be hard for the opposition – if any — to “fiscalize” them. There would be no checks and balances since it is expected that the legislature would be stacked up with Duterte’s political allies who would do Duterte’s bidding. Do you remember Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Bayan (New Society Movement) where he got 98% of the parliament’s vote all the time?
But the real danger in Duterte’s attempt to shift to federalism is not the system itself but the people who would run the system. Then the danger of autocratic rule seeps in, which could lead to repression of the people’s rights. Then what?
At this point in the country’s history where relative peace and economic progress is taking quantum leap, it is best to maintain the status quo and not to disturb the social equilibrium of the nation and derail its prosperity.
At the end of the day, dancing cha-cha to Duterte’s tune could lead to missteps to the detriment of the people.