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A VIEW FROM THE CENTER: The 25-man Consultative Committee and the Centrist position

MANILA (MindaNews / 03 February) — The Deegong this week released 19 names of the 25-man consultative committee headed by former Chief Justice Puno, a perfect choice. This group will now meet to review the 1987 Constitution and within six months, submit to the President its findings and recommendations. This could then be the position of the Executive, to shift to a federal-parliamentary or federal-presidential system.

Ostensibly, this will advance the move by DU30 to put in play a major election pledge. But behind the platitudes are the details, where the devil resides. The delicate issues range from the political structure to the economic underpinnings of the revised constitution and perforce the profile of the coming Philippine Republic.

Meanwhile, the Senate and the House of Representative broke their impasse, with each body constituting itself as a “constituent assembly” and begin deliberations on the details of the revision of the 1987 constitution. The mode of “voting separately or jointly” will be deferred to sometime in the future, postponing what could be the ultimate deal-breaker.

But in the same breath, House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas has defined its relationship with the Consultative Committee, demarcating its turf: “It cannot and will not work in tandem with Congress. Of course, Congress may consider the Commission’s recommendations, as well as those of any citizen, and may adopt or not adopt them at all”.

What we have today

(Refer to “Centrist Proposals”, www.cdpi.asia, The Manila Times articles, “Death and Taxes”, June 23, 2016 and “CDP Roadmap to Federalism”, May 11, 2017.)

“The Philippines is a sovereign state governed as a single entity. The central government is supreme and the administrative division or local government units exercise only powers that the central government has delegated to them. Central government is therefore ultimately the source of power (upon the consent of the governed) and can choose to delegate, decentralize and devolve powers but can unilaterally revoke or take them back.

“We also have a presidential system where the executive branch led by a president serves as head of state and head of government and executes the laws of the land. Such laws are legislated by a bicameral body of a senate and house of representatives, and interpreted by the judiciary. In theory, although the 3 branches of government are coequal, in practice, the president is “primus inter-pares” and in fact dominant.”

What we want

A parliamentary-federal system (the Centrist position, CDP/CDPI)

“We want a system where power and authority are not centralized but shared between a Federal Government and States (regions, sub-states, etc.). This system allows states to develop themselves the way they see fit based on their culture and specific conditions. Some areas of public life are under the control of the Federal government (security & defense, money & coinage, diplomacy, and foreign affairs, etc.). Some are left to the states (education, revenue generation & taxation, franchises licenses, and permits, etc.), and some are shared (raising taxes, borrowing money, criminal justice, etc.). These are all guaranteed in the constitution.

“We also want a shift from a presidential to a parliamentary government. Briefly, Parliamentary system is known too as “Party Government”, as the political parties have ascendancy over personalities and because of the pivotal role of political parties in parliamentary elections, governance and public administrations. In our proposal, the legislative and the executive powers are fused in a unicameral parliament. The “Head of the Government” is the Prime Minister with his cabinet recruited from among the members of Parliament, while the President is the “Head of State” and Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces. He is elected from among the members of Parliament. The Prime Minister (Head of Government) can be booted out of office through a “vote of no confidence, not impeachment.”

Putting in place some preconditions

But before all of these must come to pass, and during the actual revision of the 1987 Constitution, the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) and its political institute (CDPI) proposes three steps:

Step 1. Put in place now four critical preconditions: initiate electoral reforms; write in the revised constitution a self-executory anti-political dynasty provision; pass a real freedom of information law(FOI); but more importantly pass the Political Party Development and Financing Act (a bill pending in Congress for several years now, HB 49, 403, and 159). The latter will penalize “turncoatism,” (or the switching of political parties); and enforce transparent mechanisms to regulate and eliminate corruption and patronage—removing dependence of candidates on big corporate and individual contributors—through state subsidies that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives.

Step 2. Right after the plebiscite in May 2019, transit immediately into a parliamentary government, also known as “party government” because of the pivotal role of political parties. The “newness” of this governmental form may take more time for calibration for our institutions and our leaders to acclimatize to this new political regimen.

Step 3. Parliament allows the provinces and highly urbanized component cities to evolve first to an “autonomous territory.” “Self-determination” is central to this decision. Government can’t impose on the body politic the territories that will eventually become states in a federal format. Provinces and cities need to negotiate as to actual territories and population to encompass a bigger state; the considerations of the natural resources and wealth; the similarity of customs and language; and even the seat of the state capitals. Some of the provinces and cities will be ahead of the pack and some will be laggards so the development of a federated republic will not be uniform. All these need time and with guidance from parliament.

By the time the President steps down in 2022, the parliamentary government will be in place. The head of government will be chosen by virtue of the political party majority or through party coalitions. The President or Head of State will be elected from among the members of parliament.

And we will be well on our way to a federal form of government.

(This column first appeared in  The Manila Times issue of 01 February 2018, http://www.manilatimes.net/25-man-consultative-committee-centrist-position/377579/. Lito Monico C. Lorenzana, a Dabawenyo based in Manila, served under four Philippine Presidents as a member of the Cabinet and several Commissions. A Harvard Kennedy School of Government-educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines, Secretary General of the 2005 Consultative Commission, and one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines, Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya and the Centrist Democracy Political Institute)

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