June 23, 2018, 10:35 am
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Cha-Cha movers dared: Bar Duterte re-election

PROPONENTS of federalism should include among the proposed constitutional amendments a provision banning President Duterte from re-election once a federal form of government is approved, University of the Philippines political science professor Gene Lacza Pilapil dared yesterday.

Pilapil told the inquiry of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments that amending or changing the Constitution is one of the “classic strategy” of autocratic leaders to remain in power beyond their term.

“Write down a provision banning the incumbent president to allay the valid fears of many Filipinos that this shift to federalism is part of the same script of the current president and his key allies to remain in power beyond his constitutionally mandated term limit under the 1987 Constitution,” he said.

“Changing constitutions is a classic strategy of autocratic leaders elected in democracies but who later undermined their democracies,” he added.

The challenge was issued to members of the Consultative Committee headed by former Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno as well as members of the ruling PDP-Laban, who are pushing for amendments to the Constitution and a shift to federal government.

The consultative committee is set to complete its proposal by July, in time for Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.

Pilapil said he is unconvinced by Duterte’s repeated promises to step down from power in 2022 when his term ends, likening it to his campaign promise in May 2016 to ride a jetski and confront the Chinese who occupied several islands inside the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“To make sure that in 2022 he does not tease the country for believing him in 2018 that he will step down once his term ends under the 1987 Constitution, institutionalize his promise to step down by constitutionally barring him to run in your proposed federal constitutions. Ban Duterte, defend democracy,” he said.

Duterte has been very accommodating of China and has refused to press Beijing to honor the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration invalidating the latter’s massive claim in the disputed waters.

He recently said he was only joking when he uttered his “jetski” promise while campaigning for the presidency.

But Duterte has repeatedly said he has no plan to extend his term, even saying that if a federal form of government is approved, he would leave his post even if it is not yet the end of his term.

He also ordered the military to “shoot him” if he extends his stay in power even for a day.

Pilapil said the approved concurrent resolution in the House of Representatives seeking to convene Congress into a constituent assembly failed to include a provision banning the president’s reelection.

He said experience and history in other countries showed that leaders with autocratic bent, despite being elected in a democratic setting, tried to skirt the term limits by changing or amending the constitution.

He said a shift to federalism is unnecessary and counterproductive.

Pilapil reminded proponents of federalism not to be hasty, saying there are many who are opposed to or are advising moderation on the matter.

“This raises the question on whether intellectually, the Philippines’ constitutional overhaul project is a matter or hubris and or sheer ignorance of expert literature,” he said.

He said no democratic country with a unitary-presidential setup like the Philippines has been able to make constitutional amendments.

Also during the hearing, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. rejected the “no election” scenario next year in the course of amending the Constitution.

Pimentel said he does not support such a move despite his party’s (PDP-Laban) commitment to push for constitutional amendments to pave the way for a federal form of government.

“Elections are an indispensable way by which the people in a democratic regime call to account the officials they elect to public office,” he said.

He said no election would only allow undeserving public officials to hold on to their post.

Other resource persons in the hearing called for a relaxation on the restrictions on foreign ownership and decentralization to foster economic growth.

Dr. Francisco Magno of the Jesse Robredo Institute of Governance said easing the restriction on foreign ownership of businesses and investments could foster national competitiveness.

Sandra Tablan Paredes of the League of Provinces of the Philippines said a shift to federalism would address local issues and give LGUs more powers and resources to deliver basic services to their constituents.

“Study shows LGUs have only 15 percent share of public spending by the national government compared to 34 percent in the Asia Pacific region and 84 percent in China,” Paredes added.
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