Commentary

No impunity

The Philippine National Police (PNP) deems the July 3, 2018 assassination of Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija Mayor Ferdinand Bote solved after the arrest of two suspected gunmen that led to the unmasking of the supposed brains behind the daring daylight murder. Police investigators point to contractor Christian Saquilabon as the mastermind and the P96-million construction project at the Minalungao Eco-Tourism Park in Nueva Ecija as the motive behind the hit. The police said the late mayor reportedly gave Saquilabon a hard time securing permits for the project. The plot to kill Mayor Bote was pieced together by the police after a checkpoint in Camarines Sur of a vehicle tied to the assassination led to the arrest of suspects Florencio Suarez and Robert Gumacay. Predictably Mayor Bote’s killing, captured by CCTV cameras, triggered a frenzy of statements from the opposition accusing the administration of fostering a culture of impunity in the country bred by its relentless war against illegal drugs and criminality. It did not help that Bote’s killing occurred just a day after an even more brazen and bolder assassination of Tanauan Mayor Antonio Halili by a single bullet fired from a distance by a skilled marksman during the singing of the National Anthem. The shock value of the Halili’s killing multiplied when video footage of his murder circulated widely in social media. Just a few days later, two other local officials fell victims to assassins’ bullets. Vice Mayor Alex Lubigan of Trece Martires in Cavite was shot dead aboard his vehicle on July 7 while Vice Mayor Al-Rashid Mohammad Alit of Sapa-Sapa town in Tawi-Tawi was slain by motorcycle-riding gunmen in Zamboanga City on July 11. Fending off the shrill voices of its critics, the administration vowed that justice will be served in all these cases. By dint of their painstaking work by showing that the wheels of justice grind inexorably with the solution of the Bote murder, the PNP silenced claims about a culture of impunity. And it appears the PNP is making progress, too, towards the solution of the Halili assassination. According to PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde, the investigators are pursuing not only forensic evidence but also three persons of interest in the case. For these accomplishments, the PNP deserves our commendation. But lest complacency sets in, the PNP should further step up its drive not only against known gun-for-hire, gun-running syndicates and local warlords. Such preemptive action gains even more significance as the nation draws near another election year that would be heralded in October with the filing of the certificates of candidacy. Crime data show incidence of violence flares up during election season. For instance, at least 50 people, or an average of nearly one person every two days, were killed during the 119-day period from January to May in the 2016 national elections. In the same period, the PNP has recorded 148 cases of “election incident concerns” in 18 regions nationwide. Out of these cases, 28 were validated to be election-related. The PNP should ensure that violence and intimidation would not go unchecked during the election period as this would only serve to subvert the will of the people as expressed through their votes. It is equally crucial too for every citizen to cooperate with the authorities, maintain sobriety and refrain from propagating unfounded allegations that are detrimental to public interest. That includes knee-jerk reactions from politicians who would not let facts get in the way of a catchy and media-friendly quote. Oftentimes when hard data come in, such reactions are left with no knee to support them, leaving only a jerk behind.

Agriculture’s financial exclusion

As our farming bases are relatively small, family-run units that integrate only outside the farm-gate, the negative impact of TRAIN and taxes are minimal. Among the most debilitating consequences of inflation is the recent hike in retail food prices. Some sectors blame this 100 percent on recent tax reform initiatives. They are wrong. While the incremental excises under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) contributed in some ways to hikes at the marketplace and at the farm gate, TRAIN only had minimal impact. Three reasons account for this. One, the impact of the incremental excise is limited to the pro-rata cost of fuel and electricity in agricultural production. Such impact is relatively small given the largely non-corporate small scale and non-mechanized nature of Philippine farming. Ironically our backwardness has an upside. Two, farm-gate values are not subject to value added taxes (VAT) save for those that comprise agro-industrial costs. These include VAT-impacted fuel, electricity and any VAT inherently embedded in fertilizer or pesticide inputs. Again, as our farming bases are relatively small, family-run units that integrate only outside the farm-gate, the negative impact of TRAIN and taxes are minimal. Three, the widest margins in agriculture where TRAIN impacts the most are at the post farm-gate stage where middlemen and traders dominate. This was evident in the recent rice and sugar controversies which continue to inflict inordinately high prices despite adequate supply and consistent demand. From a banker’s perspective where financial inclusion is concerned, allow us to add as a catalyst the impact of creditors in the inordinate increase in food prices. Given the debtor profiles of middlemen at the post farm-gate stage, plus the short-term values of their capital assets and their even shorter term liquidity requirements, arrayed against the increase in key policy rates from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, these create latent non-traditional factors outside the value chain that tend to inflate agricultural prices. Note the profound impact of creditors on agricultural costs. The first was a surrender to the Basel Accords on the question of minimum capitalization required for rural banks (RB). The increased capitalization to safeguard the system led to an effective genocide among small family-owned RB as hundreds of undercapitalized banks closed, merged or sold out to larger commercial banks. As RB were critical providers of financial inclusion for farmers and fisherfolk, their severe depletion impacted negatively on agricultural productivity. In economics, low productivity increases the relative price of available products. The second factor is the opening up of the rural banking industry to foreign capital and ownership. Following their need for incremental capital, foreign investments which provide RB borrowed capital likewise required commercial and credit standards and protocols which tend to disenfranchise farmers and fisherfolk as principal RB debtors. The latter, absent acceptable securities and consistent cash flows, are forced to depend on informal credit providers thus increasing both costs and prices. The third factor is fairly recent. Philippine banks are now being required to comply with another Basel requirement. Like the capital adequacy ratio, Basel’s new Net Stable Funding Ratio is a balance sheet measure to determine a bank’s capacity to cover long term liquidity. While banks currently comply with a Required Stable Funding ratio for a one-year period, NSFR requires their available stable funding to exceed the RSF. On one end, the NSFR discourages banks from long-term financing critical to CAPEX-heavy corporate farming. On another, it forces banks to scale back short-term funding in order to build up the ASF. That’s a double whammy. If we are to transition into large scale modern agricultural enterprises, NSFR poses downside risks and is likely to perpetuate inefficiencies in a backward agricultural sector. Absent investments in corporate farming enterprises due to the dearth in credit, resultant cost inefficiencies will continue to contribute to high food prices.

No jobs, more ‘tambay’

Job generation in April 2018 from the same period the year was an unremarkable 625,000 new jobs. One of the symptoms of our dysfunctional society is the lack of jobs and low wages for the few lucky ones who have found work. This is very palpable in the mass of “tambay.” Everyday from morning until dusk, able-bodied men and even women with nothing to do loiter in street corners in cities and towns. For many, hunting jobs is a grind itself. But more of them become “tambay” after finding it unsuccessful landing jobs. They then fall into the statistical category of “discouraged” workers, those unceremoniously removed from the labor force along with the housewives and the migrant workers. An IBON report says: “The number of unemployed increased by 82,000 to 4.13 million with the unemployment rate at an unchanged 9.1 percent from the same period last year (estimated by IBON for greater comparability with historical trends). Labor force participation rates have not improved and are still at their lowest in decades.” As President Duterte prepares for his State of the Nation Address this Monday, he will have to expound on several controversial issues like the BBB (Build, Build, Build!), the country’s growing debt and AmBisyon 2040. But the basic economic issue remains that of pernicious poverty. There are no livelihood opportunities and no jobs – unemployment is the flipside of the issue behind the eyesore “tambay” and drug addicts. The new issue of IBON Birdtalk is very revealing. Last year should have been an eye-opener – the economy grew at a hyped 6.7 percent but it actually shed 663,000 jobs. Not only did the economy fail to create new jobs but there were actually hundreds of thousands less jobs to be had. This was the biggest contraction in employment in 20 years (since 1997). Job generation in April 2018 from the same period the year was an unremarkable 625,000 new jobs. This is just around the historical average since the 1980s and actually even less than average annual employment generation of over 800,000 since the 2000s. The pattern of employment creation also does not indicate an economy developing strong foundations. The most job creation was in construction (465,000 added) and in public administration (260,000) which together account for at least half of gross job creation. Some quarters claim a manufacturing resurgence, yet job creation in the sector was tepid with “…the 111,000 new jobs created coming in a distant third. …The share of the sector in total employment is still at a low 8.9 percent which is much below that in the 1960s and 1970s.” Livelihood generation and entrepreneurship development go hand in hand with improving wages for workers. Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) called for a P750 increase in minimum wages for industrial workers – this should cascade down to service, informal workers and also agricultural workers, especially the farm workers and poor odd-job employees who are paid a lot less. Where does KMU base its call? “Inflation has increased the family living wage needed for meeting basic needs to P979 for a family of five and P1,175 for a family of six in the National Capital Region as of June 2018. The NCR nominal minimum wage is however still kept low at P512 which means wage gaps of P467 (48 percent shortfall) and P663 (56 percent), respectively. The wage gap will continue to widen as inflation erodes the unchanging mandated minimum wage. The Duterte administration only raised the NCR minimum wage once by a piddling P21 in October last year.” — IBON. Livelihood generation and jobs promotion along with wage increase are key issues which should be on top of this administration’s agenda. Raising workers’ income to approximate living costs has fundamental implications starting with access to the basic goods and services for a decent life. Increase in income changes the mindset of people, ensuring that quality living is assured as well as those of their families and communities. We can expect a lot of debates and opposition from the business sector as it will bear the recurring costs. But such costs go back to society and the health of the economy. That is the main social responsibility for business – start with workers not for charity but for social and professional improvement that ensures living incomes for the employees. For a start, maybe the big multinationals and conglomerates can rise to the challenge.

Time runs out for cha-cha, no-el

The separate vote of the Senate will kill con-ass. Right now, whatever constitutional modes in amending and revising the 1987 Constitution, whether through the constitutional constituent assembly, constitutional convention as well as the People’s Initiative (PI) mode, won’t and can’t fly, mainly because time is running out on the congressional rush to change the charter and bring about federalism which is hardly popular with the electorate at this time as recent surveys have shown. Members of Congress can drop the idea of forming itself as a constituent body to amend, revise and/or draft a new Constitution unless, of course, both Houses agree on separate voting. And if this is agreed to by both Houses, the separate vote of the Senate will kill con-ass because the Senate will not be able to get the required vote to push charter change. In the case of a con-con, where elections for the delegates are mandated, this mode too can’t be done before 2019 comes around since the congressmen and senators and other hopefuls are already, at this time, getting ready for the polls this early. If moves to amend the Charter fail on two different modes, what is being floated today is the congressional resort to amending the Charter through the constitutional mode of the PI. This is also likely to go the way of the other modes to revise the Charter. The PI was twice resorted to and, when challenged, was junked by the Supreme Court. It is now a doctrine and can no longer be revisited. The first time this PI was tried was under the Fidel Ramos’ regime. The second PI try was resorted to by the Gloria Arroyo regime. Both met the same fate in the SC. The PI mode is also yet another mode to be tried but again time is running out even for this mode. The PI is not that simple for constitutional amendments. For one, Congress, which means both chambers, has to come up with guidelines and rules, which translates to getting Congress to come up with a bill to be enacted under the law on the PI, and how to go about a PI for a constitutional amendment which will only rest on one amendment, which mode can be repeated to, once every five years. Is there time for both Houses to craft the bill and enact into law the process of coming up with a PI? Not likely. If the Bangsamoro Basic Law, to date, that is being rushed by the House of Representatives and the Senate for the State of the Nation Address of President Duterte, still hitting a snag over the issue over the central government giving the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) (that will run the Bangsamoro government, should the SC even decide in favor of the BBL) five percent of the national budget. What the heck is so special about the MILF that claims to be the representative of the Bangsamoro people to be granted by law too much tax money which will likely be wasted, especially as the MILF rebels are warriors and have zero experience in governance. What has the MILF done to deserve this people’s tax money bonanza? For peace? It won’t be forthcoming as other Islamic rebels will cut off from the MILF and take up arms against the government. It has happened before and will happen again. Then too, it will have to be the Commission on Elections that has the power to reject or approve a PI which would entail coming up with official ballots for a referendum to enable the constitutional amendment to approve of a referendum. The Charter says “Amendments to this (1987) Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered votes of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.” The last two PIs failed to produce the percentages mandated by the Charter. The first time, signature tents cropped up the site where unconfirmed voters’ signatures were taken and not even approved by the Comelec. The last time, signatures were taken during a called for Barangay meeting and this was done without making it clear that the signatures were for a PI. Then too, this was done without the Comelec’s imprimatur. There was no way of checking the validity of the signatures and the homemade ballots. Given the time element, and the sentiment of the electorate against federalism at this time, even if a law for a PI is passed by Congress, moves to amend the Charter has run out of time, just as the Comelec will also be running out of time to take this PI on. It’s time to get real, Congress!

Hilarious views

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. during Tuesday’s Senate hearing on the proposed Federal Constitution asked: “Why not clearly mention the West Philippine Sea? Was it because of the administrative fear of or love for China?” Davide was referring to Article 1 of the draft Charter defining the territory of the country. In giving his adverse insights on the proposed Constitution, Davide should also assume the obligation of disclosing to Filipinos what really transpired in Edsa 2, the extraconstitutional act that dislodged popularly elected former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada in a high-level conspiracy that included him. Davide should know the 1987 Constitution since he was a member of the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) that drafted it and the West Philippine Sea or any particular maritime territory was mentioned in it. In the ConCom draft of Article I, it was stated: “Sovereignty over islands and features outside its archipelagic baselines pursuant to the laws of the Federal Republic, the law of nations and the judgment of competent international courts or tribunals.” The definition thus covered the country’s claims without specifically mentioning the areas which are the subject of conflicting maritime claims. Instead of nitpicking in the service of his yellow Liberal Party (LP), Davide would contribute a lot to setting right the annals of history by recounting his participation in the 2001 adventure that has since become a constitutional aberration. The extraconstitutional act was tolerated by the Supreme Court then with Davide even administering the oath of office to Vice President Gloria Arroyo based on the “constructive resignation” of Erap. In his regular piece at the Philippine Daily Inquirer, former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote that Davide was fully responsible for Arroyo’s takeover of Estrada’s post. The SC justices then agreed for Davide to administer the oath to the Vice President as “acting President” but during the swearing in event, the phrase was changed by Davide into “act as President.” “Worried that violence, civil strife and bloodshed would ensue, I proposed that Arroyo be sworn in as “acting President.” CJ Davide agreed, and in a hurriedly-convened session that morning, the justices concurred,” Panganiban wrote. He said the day after the Edsa event, some SC justices were furious at Davide who gave the excuse that the words “to act as President” were neutral and could, “at the proper time and case and after full hearing, be clarified.” The Davide Court, thus, tolerated the act. The SC later on voted 13-0 to uphold the ouster of Estrada and the legitimacy of Arroyo’s presidency. Incidentally, the decision upholding Estrada’s ouster was penned by then Justice Reynato S. Puno, later on a Chief Justice and who is now Constitutional Commission (ConCom) chair. Estrada in a recent assessment of his 2001 ouster said “there was a conspiracy by several powerful personalities who wanted me to resign but it was Davide as Chief Justice who ultimately made the ouster possible.” Estrada was impeached by the House then and was facing the Senate court but the process was not completed after the House prosecutors along with yellow senator judges walked out of the hearing to join the Edsa 2 uprising. “Instead of following the law and procedure as mandated by his oath as Chief Justice, he allowed the Senator judges to walk out and betray instead of uphold the constitutional process of impeachment,” Estrada said. Instead of calling back those who walked out to continue the proceeding or dismissing the case for failure to prosecute, Estrada said Davide instead “went to Edsa himself and illegally swore in Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.” Davide assailed the wordings of the draft charter and committed to defend the 1987 Constitution with his life. He should, however, owe up and seek forgiveness from the nation for his part in bastardizing the Constitution, the laws and the legal processes.

Leni and the opposition

That Vice President Leni Robredo had to literally offer herself to lead the country’s fragmented political opposition speaks volumes about their inability to present themselves as the people’s best alternative to the administration. I have no problem with Robredo leading the opposition. Being the highest elective official outside of President Duterte’s political circle, it is logical for her to lead the opposition. However, by offering herself she only diminished her stature. To occupy the top post of any group’s leadership is a privilege readily bestowed on the leader by the membership. It is an act of recognition of one’s ability, capability and ascendancy to lead. When Robredo sought to become the leader of the opposition she failed to see the blunder that exploded in her face right away. And for sure, it did not bode well to the opposition and to the very leadership she is offering. The move only painted her as not the overwhelming choice for the task. Her move likewise pictured the opposition as lacking in quality leaders. Indisputably, this is not good for the opposition. What she did that pundits described as unthinkable, Robredo only allowed herself to be viewed as trying to prevent equally competent leaders from contesting the opposition’s leadership with her in the future. This move is saddening for it only confirmed to a certain extent President Duterte’s assessment of her as incompetent, thus not worthy a successor. Robredo self-destructed even before becoming the political opposition’s recognized leader. Robredo, factually, is just the recognized leader of the Liberal Party which is just a fraction of the entire opposition. She should have been advised by her political handlers not to publicly and openly offer herself as opposition leader. She should have first silently worked for the consolidation of the opposition to ensure she is handed the leadership on a silver platter. That would have been most logical move Robredo had pursued. Undeniably, the opposition at this point is so fragmented. And it is practically divided on all fronts. They differ ideologically in their platforms and strategies. What the opposition needs at this point is come up with a solid front. This can only be achieved if they can get their act together. Lacking a clear political agenda would be fatal to their cause. Undeniably, what we see and hear from the opposition at this point are all criticisms that can’t even be constructive. They need to present a viable alternative to Duterte. Failure to do this could be fatal to their cause. Robredo should first concern herself with the task of unifying the opposition. And unification should not be anchored on personalities but on something more substantial like how to address the country’s economic woes. They should understand that these are the results of the current world economic order favoring rich nations and the one percent of the world’s population who, economists say, control more than half of the world’s wealth. The opposition should clearly define how to make the bureaucracy effective in carrying out its constitutional duty of serving the people and how they intend to eradicate corruption. This is a tall order. But if Robredo dreams of installing herself as the opposition’s undisputed leader, these concerns should be first in her agenda.

The No-El Effect

Following the submission of the Consultative Committee’s draft Constitution to the President and Congress last week, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez remarked that the practical route to facilitate its passage is by suspension of the May 2019 elections. “If we want to finish this I think we should prepare a time table,” Speaker Alvarez firmly expressed during a press briefing. When asked if this will entail suspending the elections in May 2019, he answered, “Practically, yes.” The draft Constitution completed by the 22-member Consultative Committee, chaired by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, is set to be taken up by Congress during the Third Regular Session, beginning on the day of the State of the Nation Address next week, July 23. When Congress convenes as a Constituent Assembly, the elected legislators may amend and/or insert provisions to the current draft and submit an approved draft to the people through a referendum. Speaker Alvarez mentioned the packed schedule of the legislators in the next months, which include the budget hearings, filing of certificates of candidacy and campaigning for 2019 elections as very important affairs that will occupy and render members of Congress quite busy in the coming months. Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III floated the possibility of the postponement of elections, citing Article VI, Section 8 of the Constitution which states “Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election of the Senators and the Members of the House of Representatives shall be held on the second Monday of May.” Sotto added: “Therefore, we do not need a plebiscite to postpone the elections. A law, by both houses of Congress, may be able to postpone the elections.” Although they spoke in no certain terms, the statements of Speaker Alvarez and Senate President Sotto drew the ire of colleagues from both their respective chambers of Congress, rejecting the proposal and tagging the suggestion as unnecessary and unconstitutional. Rep. Tom Villarin said the Speaker’s proposal was “off-tangent and misplaced,” adding “consistent survey results show that majority of Filipinos do not support Charter change or know about federalism.” Rep. Teddy Baguilat explained the no-election scenario was the primary reason why Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III stepped down as Senate president in order for both the House and Senate leadership to concur in the matter. Sen. Grace Poe believes amending the Constitution should not be rushed, especially with the upcoming elections, saying “you can probably amend the Constitution, but if even if you do, you need the Senate vote.” She added she doubts the public will accept a no-election scenario. In the same vein, Sen. Francis Escudero rejected the possibility in a statement, saying: “Does Congress have the power to postpone our elections? I don’t believe so. An amendment to the Constitution is required to postpone national and local elections.” Escudero primarily pointed to the constitutional provision, stating senators and congressmen shall have terms consisting of six years and three years, respectively, and an extension to said terms would require an amendment to the Constitution. Malacanañg issued a statement emphasizing the President has no hand in calls to suspend the 2019 elections, stating “the only possibility (that the elections will not push through) is if the proposed new Constitution is ratified earlier than expected, in which case the 1987 Constitution would cease to have legal effect. But while there is no new Constitution, the President would ensure that there would be an election.” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque clarified the President did not ask legislators to fast-track the passage of bills establishing a federal form of government. All told, the “No-El Effect” is quite chilling. It suggests several scenarios that leave us Filipinos speculating on the outcomes. The Pulse Asia survey showing the Filipinos’ opposition to Charter change may cause concern and may be proof that Filipinos are not receptive to change. Yet, here we are with a President who was elected due to his promise of bringing true change to our country. What comes next then? Perhaps, a compromise, but change, nonetheless.

Pacquiao tomorrow

Pacquiao at 39 could not be considered washed out. At best, what Manny Pacquiao achieved in his seventh-round knockout of Lucas Matthysse in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday is the validation of his senatorial slot even when his turn to seek reelection is still far away. That is if he will not seek the presidency. Pacquiao need not campaign in the 2022 polls, yet he is assured of keeping his Senate seat on top of the World Boxing Association welterweight crown he snatched away from Matthysse, which he would probably give up or lose by then; and being the only eight-division world champion, a distinction he would probably keep for long. Pacquiao’s camp says the boxing senator will still fight two or three years more. You may not like him as a politician, but Pacquiao clinched his first try at the Senate with 16,050,546—a number enough to win the Philippine presidency as proved by the 16,601,997 votes that ushered in a Davao City mayor to Malacañang. Pacquiao won his Senate seat without breaking a sweat. Duterte had the presidency after a controversial run. Duterte had publicly announced he would like Pacquiao to succeed him. That he was serious with that pronouncement remains to be seen as he said the same for Bongbong Marcos and Alan Cayetano. But who would know? Pacquiao, however, had the nation enthralled once more following his kayo of Matthysse. It was his first knockout triumph in nine years. Those years had bred doubters after Pacquiao absorbed four big defeats since he last knocked out Miguel Cotto and Ricky Hatton in 2009. Not a few blamed Pacquiao’s change in religious belief for his tamed game since then. Whether it caused Pacquiao to lose his ring magic, only the boxer could say. But Pacquiao never went for a KO since then, even when opportunities offered him many. Then he absorbed back-to-back losses to Timothy Bradley and Juan Manuel Marquez in 2012. His knockout loss to Marquez was the most painful to watch as he fell like timber and face first down the canvas. He was no longer the same Pacquiao, not a few observed. Then came another painful loss to Floyd Mayweather, Jr in 2015 and yet another from Jeff Horn last year. Pacquiao at 39 could not be considered washed out, however. But his magic that once commanded the highest prize pay in the sport, sent packs into the world’s biggest arenas and magnetized millions of television viewers for fees have all been lost. Pacquiao’s last fight was a pathetic business venture compared with his glorious runs to the bank in his previous fights. President Duterte echoed many calls for Pacquiao’s retirement just minutes after his victory over Matthysse. It could have sounded like the message sent by Freddie Roach, Pacquiao’s former trainer—a legendary one at that, only with a different voice and stature the moment he lost to Horn. But the message is the same. Quit while ahead. Or quit while there is still something left in the Pacman. Roach may have cared for his former ward when he said “it (was) time” for Pacquiao. Pacman did not listen. He eased Roach out of his team instead. Pacquiao replaced Roach with long-time friend Buboy Fernandez for his corner. Fernandez delivered by making Pacquiao show up in his winning vintage form. His camp is not looking for several more Pacquiao fights this year and the next. But Pacquiao needs to reassess his future. Perhaps he needs to look at the late Muhammad Ali to be reminded of the possibilities.

Haste makes waste

We think the administration should also listen. Two recent surveys can’t possibly be wrong. The latest one by Pulse Asia showed that only two out of 10 Filipinos support moves to change the 1987 Constitution. The survey, conducted from June 15 to 21 or around the time that President Rodrigo Duterte’s Consultative Committee (ConCom) began its regional consultations on the proposed shift to a federal system of government, found that nearly two-thirds of Filipinos do not want the present unitary system of government changed now. A majority of respondents, 69 percent, said they know little or nothing about the proposed federal system of government. This figure is virtually unchanged from the March survey where 71 percent of Filipinos said they had little or no knowledge of federalism. An earlier survey on the same issue, conducted by Social Weather Stations (SWS), showed only one of four Filipino adults or 25 percent said they are aware of the proposal to shift to a federal system of government while 75 percent only knew about it during the survey. However, 37 percent of the respondents agreed with the proposal and only 29 percent disagreed with it. The logical thing to do given the results of these surveys is to launch an intensive information, education and communication campaign to explain to the people why Charter change and the concomitant shift to a federal system is necessary. The ConCom said SWS survey result is “understandable” since it was taken from March 23 to 27 when ConCom had barely begun its job. Still, ConCom spokesman Conrado Generoso conceded there is still lack of awareness on federalism. He said the release of the survey result is “very encouraging” since it showed a “very high” number of people undecided on whether they favor a federal system of government. “If we go out there and tell the remaining 34 percent of the people [they] will be convinced. They will be convinced that this is the way forward for this country,” according to Generoso. “At least we are in a stage where the people are neutral, which means they are open to hearing what we are proposing and they are open to changing their mind. That is what we are counting on when we go out there and tell the people about this.” Explaining the federalism concept to the people will take time and a lot of effort on the part of the administration. Presidential Spokesman Harry L. Roque has admitted that an “information drive is not enough” and that “we’ll need to work harder given that the shift to federalism is the cornerstone of the Duterte administration.” We agree completely and urge government to conduct intensive regional consultations where public officials can gather feedback from the people on federalism. After all, the shift to a new system of government will affect people’s lives on a day-to-day basis. We recall that attempts to change the 1987 Constitution under two previous administrations failed mainly because the public detected an ulterior motive or hidden agenda, which was to lift the term limits of elected officials, hoping to allow them to stay in their positions even without a clear mandate from the electorate. This despite the avowed intention of previous Cha-cha adherents to revise only the economic provisions that were deemed too restrictive as these put a cap on foreign ownership of the economy and deterred more foreign investors from entering the country. While at this, apart from going to the grassroots to gather feedback from the people on proposed constitutional changes, we think the administration should also listen to dissenting voices, particularly those who have expressed fear that federalism can spell disaster to the economy as it could possibly stoke hyperinflation—or a situation where consumer prices can skyrocket and sharply erode the value of the peso. Apart from its impact on the economy, federalism could also adversely affect governance at the grassroots level as many local government units (LGU) are simply not ready to handle more powers and resources made available to them. One school of thought argues that nations that were successful in embracing federalism were those which already had strong local government structures in the first place. We urge rigorous and thorough study of the proposed constitutional changes coupled with participatory democracy to avoid any headlong rush into the unknown that could send the nation into an unwelcome period of uncertainty and unease rather than of lasting peace and sustained development.
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