MANILA - Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay on Thursday said government institutions for checks and balances may become obsolete and the country may even become a province of China if the Constitution is revised to pave the way for a federal form of government as proposed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“They can undermine the power of the Supreme Court, the power of the Commission on Human Rights. They can delete the Ombudsman, make the Philippines truly a province of China,” Hilbay, a University of the Philippines professor, said at a forum.
Interior and Local Government Assistant Secretary and administrator of the Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform Jonathan Malaya, however, said there would be no changes in national sovereignty or national territory.
The official, former Executive Director of the PDP Laban Federalism Institute, also made the assurance that the “good provisions” of the 1987 Constitution will remain under proposed charter reforms of PDP-Laban, the President's party.
“We do not support amending the preamble, the bill of rights, the suffrage provisions of the Constitution. All of those good provisions of the Constitution will remain,” Malaya said.
Hilbay and Malaya spoke at a forum on charter change and federalism hosted by the Philippine Women’s University in Manila.
Among questions asked during the forum was the seeming rush of the Duterte administration to amend the Constitution.
Hilbay cited the suspicion that one of the goals of amending the constitution could be inserting a provision that would allow the term extension for the sitting President, whether Duterte or his successors.
“It boils down to the question of trust, question of credibility, question of timing,” Hilbay said.
But Malaya said there is no “hold-over” provision for President Duterte in their proposal.
He said the consultative commission on charter change headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno is expected to finish its task by July.
Hilbay, meanwhile, said that even if the commission finishes its task with acceptable suggestions, the danger lies in the proposing entity, with members of the House of Representatives forming part of the constituent assembly.
“What are the chances that the House of Representatives will be adopting it in full? Zero, nil, because they will never act against their self-interest,” Hilbay said.
“Federalism is the President’s agenda, the members of Congress have no choice but to listen to that,” Malaya said.
Hilbay also underscored that the proposed devolution of powers under federalism can best be addressed by amending the local government code.
Malaya, however, countered that that is an option only if the shift to federalism fails.