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House concludes Cha-Cha consultations

MANILA, Nov. 26 -- The House committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Rep. Roger Mercado (Lone District, Southern Leyte) concluded this week its series of public consultations on the proposed charter change issue after getting the views of representatives from nine sectors and resource persons from 10 agencies and institutions.

The committee consulted representatives of the urban poor, non-government organizations, research institutions, indigenous peoples, farmers and fisherfolk, youth, labor, education, and professionals.

Among the sectors consulted during the culmination of the cha-cha consultations include Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI); Center for Scientific Research and Strategic Development. Inc. (CSRSDI); Institute for Autonomy and Governance (IAG);

Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO); National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL); Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV); National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP); Legal Rights and Natural Resources – Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth Philippines; and

Party-list groups Bayan Muna, ANAC-IP, Sagip and COOP NATCCO; Department of Agriculture (DA); Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR); Unyon ng mga Maggagawa sa Agrikultura; National Youth Commission (NYC), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE); Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA); Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP); Commission on Higher Education (CHED); Philippine Association of State Colleges and Universities (PASCU); and Institute of Integrated Electric Engineers of the Philippines.

Invited resource persons include those from Mindanao Development Authority (MinDa); 1971 Constitutional Convention; Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC); 2005 Consultative Constitutional Commission; Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH); National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA); Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT); Department of Energy (DOE); Department of Health (DOH); and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Committee vice chairman Rep. Edward Vera Perez Maceda (4th District, Manila) acknowledged and thanked Mercado for his tireless effort in leading the committee during the initial leg of the long and arduous task of crafting a new Constitution, which lawmakers hope would be more responsive to the current needs of the people.

The invited representatives and resource persons agreed, based on their expressed views, that indeed, it was necessary to change the 1987 Constitution as it had many provisions which were already obsolete and no longer applicable to the present times; do not reflect current needs; and hamper economic growth.

The federal form of government, President Duterte’s battle cry since day one of his election campaign, was the widely preferred choice by the guests and resource persons for they believe it will provide a venue for equal distribution of resources and decentralization of powers which will benefit largely the far-flung regions and provinces of the country.

Lito Lorenzana, president and chairman of the Board of CDPI, said they wanted a shift to “a system with clear division of authority between the national government and the regional governments, a democratic system which recognizes the roles of each region to govern itself and pursue its own agenda of progress and development, consistent with the national interest”.

Lorenzana said the present unitary-presidential form of government of the country is “one of the worst forms of government in the world”, citing a study where the country ranks 150 out of 188 countries in the world that have the worst form of government. “Based on empirical data, the 10 most successful countries in the world have federal-parliamentary forms,” he said.

Lorenzana cited four preconditions for the effective shift in government form: indispensability of real political parties with clear ideological orientation with defined objectives and concepts of governance; enactment of a law banning political dynasties to level the playing field and provide equal opportunities to all capable leaders to serve; passage of the freedom of information (FOI) bill to enforce transparency in all transactions in government; and the initiation of electoral reforms that would put in place a system that will not pervert the will of the populace.

University of the Philippines (UP) Political Science Professor and CSRSDI Executive Director Dr. Clarita Carlos divided the issue into four aspects, starting first with federalism which would stop the overreach of the central government and give the local governments a lot of leeway and maneuverability as the country attains full ASEAN integration.

Second is the issue of parliamentary system. Carlos explained that as long as the head of the government enjoyed the trust and confidence of the majority in the House, he might continue to serve with no term limit. She said the issue of political dynasties would also be addressed and political parties forced to discipline themselves or risk committing political suicide.

Third aspect is regional integration. Carlos said the country was slowly veering away from the concept of nation-state. The country is a signatory to the ASEAN economic community initially, then later to the defense and security community, and further on to the social and cultural community. She recommended the inclusion of a provision in an ASEAN parliament which will harmonize and standardize all inter-governmental or inter-parliament transactions such as in investment, customs, immigration, quarantine, among others.

Carlos said the fourth aspect is the digitization of all government agencies to address corruption due to human intervention. She offered to submit copies of her previous research studies that may help the committee in their continuing study of Cha-cha.

Executive director Benedicto Bacani of IAG proposed that problems be identified first before looking for a solution and finding a suitable mode. But whatever the Cha-cha process will be, Bacani said it should be transparent.

Bacani said that federalism would promote the growth of local governments and their economy and peace in conflict areas because the present Constitution was more focused on the National Capital Region (NCR) which had resulted in inequity in the distribution of resources and, in effect, hampered the peace process.

MinDa Secretary Datu Abul Khayr Alonto said he was honored to be part of the historic moment. He saw hope for Mindanao under the Duterte presidency. He supported the view that federalism and decentralization may end the war and bring lasting peace in Mindanao. He then appealed to House members to fast-track the deliberations so the federalization process can be started as early as next year.

Lawyer Raul Lambino, a member of the 2005 Consultative Constitutional Commission, called the 1987 Constitution a reactionary move to the Marcos administration. He said it needs to be reviewed and revised to address many of society’s problems.

Lambino said Congress, in consultation with experts whom they can tap to help hasten the process, must decide on the different paths to take, such as parliamentary or semi-presidential form, unicameral or bicameral. He said Congress can also convene as a constituent assembly to change the Constitution through direct congressional action or call a constitutional convention.

Vicente Camilon, Jr., TUCP assistant general secretary and spokesman, said they support federalism and espoused that labor standards fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government, and not the state government, to prevent the lowering of labor standards and guarantee workers’ rights.

Rep. Raymond Mendoza (Party-list, TUCP) said on the issue of the party-list system, reform, and not abolition, might be the solution.

Lawyer Willan Garcia, chief legal officer of the NYC, said a new Constitution should continue to: recognize the vital role of the youth in nation building; promote and protect the physical, moral, spiritual, intellectual and social wellbeing of the youth; strengthen their participation in national and local governance, and recognize international laws which protects them.

Former Congressman now NAPC Undersecretary Roseller Barinaga said while the Constitution is still functional, it is no longer suitable to meet the present demands of society. Barinaga said con-ass is suffice if only some constitutional provisions will be changed, while con-con is needed if the goal is a total constitutional revision. Barinaga, however, said the NAPC would like to retain economic provisions restricting foreign ownership of land and capital to prevent greater foreign domination of the Philippine economy, which is one of the deeper causes of poverty in the country. It also wants retention of provisions against the accumulation of political powers, such as laws on political dynasties and term limits.

Lawyer Jeanette Florita, acting bureau director of the NCIP Legal Affairs Office, called for the retention and enhancement of the IP rights and welfare provisions, and believed that a con-con may ensure ample representation of their sector in the crafting of a new Constitution.

Engineer Ranulfo Feliciano, a director of the Philippine Federation of Professional Associations (PFPA), suggested his own version of “5Ps” in ensuring equal representation of all sectors as opposed to the present party-list system, namely: poor politicians; peasants; proletariat or the working class; plebeians; and professionals.

Atty. Marilou dela Cruz of the DENR said Cha-cha should be done through con-con as it is composed of delegates chosen by the people, thus reflecting their true goals and aspirations. Cha-cha should also consider the balance between the optimum development of natural resources and their protection, she added.

Maylene Beltran, director of the DOH Bureau of International Health Cooperation (DOH-BIHC) said regional health governance under a federal system may favor the health agenda which is being pursued in the next six years towards a healthier Philippines.

Lawyer Norman Daano, acting chief of the Department of National Defense (DND) Legal Affairs Service, said the DND welcomes Cha-cha, especially if it includes provisions on highly politicized sections, such as terms of office of officials. He suggested to put the DND under the Civil Service Commission (CSC) jurisdiction to further emphasize civilian supremacy over the military.

Assistant Secretary Joji Aragon of DOLE supported the reinforcement of labor standards and the retention of labor and employment clauses and provisions in the new Constitution.

Lawyer Marco delos Reyes of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said Cha-cha must be anchored on the desire to uplift the condition of the marginalized sectors.

Undersecretary Ranivai Dilangalen of DA supported the President’s Cha-cha thrust to effect federalism, saying this would bear great positive impact on agriculture and give each region a more specific approach to agricultural problems.

Lawyer Estrella Zaldivar, chief of the DPWH Legal Service, said in doing Cha-cha, it was imperative to ensure just and fair compensation for landowners.

Assistant Secretary Carlos Bernardo Abad Santos of NEDA said that lifting and opening foreign restrictions in the Constitution would also open opportunities to Filipinos in other countries. Hence, it is time to improve on the competencies of the country’s professionals through better education. He also called for enhanced environmental protection and preservation. (PNA)
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