Manny Valdehuesa .
IF we must change our political system, let it be the product of consensus. Let it be founded on a genuine clamor for such change. And let the people’s will be the basis. A general agreement or approval, not merely a prescription imposed from the top.
Adopting the federal system, while also replacing the presidential with the parliamentary form, cannot be treated as an ordinary issue. It’s a momentous issue. It has great implications to our way of life, our democratic institutions, to relations between us and our government, and to a host of other considerations.
The advocates of federalism are being very cavalier about effecting the shift through a mere enactment by a “constituent assembly,” doing so as if it’s a self-evident necessity for our society.
Well, we are the people who constitute Filipino Society, the actual “constituents.” But they did not even bother to consult us—a task implicit in their work as a so-called “Consultative Committee.” They should have approached their assignment with care and sensitivity.
It didn’t occur to them, for instance, that such a momentous task cannot be entrusted to mere “representatives”—especially the type that infest the halls of Congress. Representatives are mere proxies of the real constituents. Constituents are the people who elected them, their principals, the bosses to whom they are accountable.
It would have been so easy to consult the real constituents. They’re right in the community, the neighbors, in the barangay. All they needed to do was convene the Barangay Assembly—which exists in every community and includes all constituents in it.
Do they they say it’s impractical to do this since there are over 42,000 barangays throughout the archipelago? Tell them that although they may find it difficult to imagine how it can be done, it is doable nonetheless. Very doable. And it is very important to do so. That is, if they and the president are earnest about honoring and respecting the people’s sovereignty.
They could have circularized the barangays to convene and discuss charter change and the federal system. They could have provided the needed information and requested the professionals and teachers in the barangay to facilitate the discussions. Getting the barangays to convene is something the department of the interior and local government (DILG) does routinely. Directing them to take up assorted issues.
Getting the barangay assemblies to deliberate upon a vital issue is the surest way to elicit the will of the people, all of the people! With proper guidelines and terms of reference, issues can be deliberated upon, voted on, and the results consolidated. A universal, all-inclusive way to get a show of hands.
That it has not been done to any effect before is no reason it should not or cannot be done.
Doing it will also institutionalize the way our communities engage in deliberative conversations and reach consensus, something that citizens need in order to attain political maturity.
It is lamentable that this venue and process for eliciting or ascertaining the popular will has not been developed and utilized in our society. Yet, it is precisely what the barangay’s direct democracy and parliamentary form of government needs if it is to be the dynamic and durable foundation for our republic.
So let us tell the Cha Cha proponents to go easy on their advocacy and make them aware that only about a third of our people have even a rough idea of what they’re advocating and ask them to consider that still so few Filipinos admit to being conversant with the present Constitution. It was ratified in 1987 (thirty years ago na!) but is still unfamiliar to most of our citizenry.
Let them know also that the rest of us are miffed that vital provisions in it have been ignored and not complied by the very same “representatives” who wish change it.
Let’s go easy also on playing politics with this issue. The “consultative committee” that prepared the draft constitution consists of people hand-picked by the president. They are political appointees, chosen for their known advocacy for a system unfamiliar to most. In other words, biased.
Then they cite the president’s election win as a reason for shifting to federal, saying it was his campaign promise, part of his platform, and he was elected because of it. That therefore he should deliver on it.
They have got to be kidding! Since when are elections in our society decided on the basis of ideas or platform? We’re still far from reaching that level of sophistication, way far from it. Platform-based political campaigns are very much still a pipe-dream in Philippine society, a mere illusion!
(Manny Valdehuesa Jr. is a former Unesco regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, government peace panel during the administration of Corazon Aquino; awardee, PPI-Unicef outstanding columnist. An author of books on governance, he is chairman/convenor of Gising Barangay Movement Inc.. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)