With reactors from different disciplines and sectors, the consideration of constitutional reform and the proposal to shift from unitary government to a federal form brought up varied opinions during the Pakighinabi roundtable conversation last Jan. 24, 2018 at the Finster Auditorium, Ateneo de Davao University.
Aiming to discuss the current proposals for the shift to a federal form of government and the proposal for constitutional change through a constituent assembly, reactors expressed their insights in the presence of the two lead discussants, Asec. Astra Pimentel-Naik (Presidential Legislative Liaison Office) and Asec. Jonathan Malaya (Department of the Interior and Local Government).
‘Insulting actions’ of House Speaker Alvarez
Atty. Faye Bello, the presiding officer during the roundtable discussion, asked the lead discussants about the difference of the current constituent assembly from the previous attempts to change the constitution.
Pimentel-Naik readily responded to the question, telling that the administration of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte makes it different from the previous constitutional reform attempts.
“What’s the difference with this is the bearer of the news—President Duterte’s heart. In fact, during the Senate hearing, Secretary Panelo said that if draft constitution that will be passed by the Congress is not in accordance to the original heart of the president, which is to serve the people better and to have a Philippine society that is more democratic and adherent to the needs of the people, he will not sign,” she narrated.
Pimentel-Naik added that the constituent assembly is different, saying that the people now are open to embracing change. She pointed out that the “readiness” is shown by the people who voted for Pres. Duterte.
However, University President Fr. Joel Tabora criticized House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez for his ‘insulting actions’ over the process of constitutional reform and shifting to federalism.
“The manner in which the House of Representatives is handling this process smacks of railroading and of not respecting the constitution as it is today, of erasing the Senate from the deliberations. If they so disrespect the constitution, now, how can they be in trust with writing a new constitution?” he said.
Tabora bluntly expressed that the way Alvarez is handling the process is insulting, pointing out that the speaker seems persistent in listening to other opinions. Moreover, he said point-blank that Alvarez is “drunk with power.”
“That is exactly the antithesis of what you here are saying that this is about bringing power to the people and taking it out of ‘Imperial Manila’, whether he comes from Davao or not.
“For it to be valid, you have to bring in people to discussion and you really have to bring about a national consensus. And the railroad that they are doing now is not bringing about consensus; it’s the very opposite,” Tabora stressed.
Removal of tax exemption
Malaya responded to the concern of Tabora about the deletion of tax exemption from nonstock, nonprofit schools. Tabora suggested that “it is really the vowed duty of the State a system of education for all where there is complementarity between public and private institutions.”
“I wish to underscore that I understand the complementary nature of the Philippine education system that the public-school system cannot accommodate all students.
“We’ll review this again. I will ask our team to look at it again. I think the only look at it from the point of view of economics. But they never look at it at the point of view of education institutions and the point of view of the Department of Education and Commission on Higher Education,” Malaya said.
On trust issues
Despite the report of general approval from the public, many individuals are having trust issues toward the process of pursuing constitutional reform.
Atty. Romeo Cabarde Jr., former chair of University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), was among the reactors who expressed his hesitation to the idea of changing the 1987 Constitution.
Cabarde broke the ice after joking that in terms of expertise, he would talk about trust.
“The most contentious part of constitutional changes would be on the process of changing and the designing of the change that’s supposed to take place within the constitution,” he said.
Cabarde discouraged people to support the constituent assembly as a method of choice to amend the current constitution because of some arguments.
“From what Asec. Naik earlier mentioned that we need to entrust the amendment of the constitution to people with good heart, and by that, I don’t see the members of Congress as people with good hearts,” Cabarde bluntly told the audience.
Moreover, faculty staff like Ramon Beleno III and Tetchie Aquino also expressed their trust issues regarding the constituent assembly.
“If we go federal, we have to ask ourselves: ‘What are the problems do we hope to resolve? And itong problem ba na ito is inherent in our current system?’ or ‘The same problems would exist even if we change the system?’” he asked, suggesting to improve the current system instead.
Aquino tackled the involvement of political dynasties in the proposed constitutional amendment.
Student leaders’ stand
Student representatives from the university also shared their insights regarding the amendment of the 1987 Constitution and the shift to federalism.
Khryzza Mae Pinzon, the chairperson of Student Council of the Philippines (SCAP), believes in social justice, highlighting that no political or government type is a solution to the problems we have in the unitary.
“There are common misconceptions, especially in the Millennials, because we usually believe that when we go federal, it is autonomically mean that it is decentralization when in fact it does not. Because at the end of the day, it is still dependent on how we craft our type of government.
“We’re also concerned [about] realigning certain commissions under the Office of the President. One commission such as the National Youth Commission to be inconsonant with the division of states. Because currently NYC only has seven area offices. It does not really sit well with the fact that its purpose is to guide in terms of policy making, to guide the lawmakers, and even the president himself,” Pinzon said.
During an interview with Samahan President John Kevin Espino, he said that that the focus on the process of constitutional change and federalism than the propositions of such matters.
“Ang conversation ngayon ditto more reliant na on ‘how is it done’ or ‘what’s the next thing to do’ when in fact, for me, especially speaking in behalf of students and citizens, more than three-fourths ng ating citizens do not really understand the current constitution. And how [it is] being done right now is very confusing,” Espino said.
Furthermore, Jorjani Sinsuat, president of Campus Club Organization and a representative from Moro commuity, said that matters regarding the pressing issues in the society should be heard in a platform like Pakighinabi.
Sinsuat took the opportunity to discuss the involvement of Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), saying that the both BBL and government shift processes are confusing. However, he believed that BBL and federalism could go together.
“What I just really want to clarify not just with the discussants but also the framers of the soon-to-be [new] amended constitution is that how do we make sure na wala na wala na tayong loophole in case a time arises na may constitutional challenges in future?” Sinsuat told Atenews during an interview.