MANILA (3rd UPDATE) - Without any objection, the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked to review the 1987 Constitution on Tuesday approved the proposed draft of the revised organic law.
If adopted by Congress, the proposal will pave the way for a federal form of government, a move seen by members of the ConCom as a means to address lingering problems under the unitary system of government.
“What is wrong with our unitary government?,” retired Chief Justice Reynato Puno, the ConCom chair, asked while explaining his vote.
“Overconcentration of powers… Everything centers in Metro Manila. The result is catastrophe. Metro Manila wallows in prosperity while other regions live in poverty,” he said.
“It is time for our regions to be liberated, time to be freed from the shackles of the national government and this can only be done if we adopt federalism,” he said.
The ConCom has yet to release the actual text of the proposed constitution pending submission of the draft to the President. But based on previous deliberations and ConCom media statements, the proposed constitution will retain the president and vice president as heads of government but they will have to be voted in tandem, as part of the same party.
The federal republic will be divided into 18 federated states, represented by 2 senators each.
The House of Representatives will still be composed of 240 legislative districts with a representative each, plus 160 additional representatives coming from the political parties.
The political parties will be voted on a nationwide basis, replacing the party-list system.
Each region will be headed by a regional governor and a deputy governor, to be chosen by and among members of the regional legislative assembly.
The regional legislative assembly in turn will be composed of representatives of provinces and highly-urbanized and independently-chartered cities, plus representatives of the political parties to be elected regionwide.
Aside from the shift to a federal form of government, former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Nachura said political reforms are among the most significant changes in the proposed draft.
These include the introduction of a political dynasty ban which extends to relatives in the second degree of consanguinity and affinity. The proposed constitution prohibits succession and holding more than one position, and penalizes party switching.
He also lauded the recognition of the people’s initiative as a means for the people to directly propose revisions or amendments to the constitution.
Nachura said he earlier feared federalism might encourage warlordism but he believes there are enough safeguards in the proposed changes such as elections every 4 years, and the powers of regional and local government officials.
ConCom member lawyer Laurence Wacnang lauded the elevation of the Commission on Human Rights as a constitutional commission and its expanded powers over non-state actors who commit human rights abuses.
The proposed federal constitution also adds socio-economic and environmental rights to the Bill of Rights.
The Philippine Rise is explicitly mentioned in the provisions on national territory.
To address criticism that federalism might lead to secession, the preamble in the proposal clearly mentions a “permanent and indissoluble nation.” Section 2 of Article XI of the proposed constitution also prohibits “anyone to advocate, demand for, or support the secession of any Region from the Federal Republic.”
The draft is a product of more than 4 months of deliberations.
All 22 members of the ConCom on Tuesday were present and each were given 10 minutes to explain his or her vote.
Puno is optimistic that Congress will support the proposed federal constitution.
He said the plebiscite or referendum should be held mid-2019 to ensure sufficient transition until 2022. But he prefers that this be held separately from the 2019 mid-term elections to allow people to focus on revisions to the Constitution.
Amid concerns that the shift to federalism might make it possible for incumbent officials, particularly the President, to extend their stay in power, Puno said:
“We provided that the term of the President and Vice-President which will end in June 2022 shall not be extended.”
He added that the election of the first federal and federated region officials will be fixed on the second Monday of May 2022.