Cebuanos divided over Cha-cha, federalism

By: Ador Vincent Mayol March 01,2018 - 10:43 PM

CHA-CHA PUBLIC HEARING: Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, is flanked by Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide Jr. and Sen. Franklin Drilon during the public hearing on proposed laws to change the 1987 Constitution held at the Capitol Social Hall on March 1, 2018.

Cebuanos were divided on the issue of revising the 1987 Constitution but it made for a substantial discussion at the second Senate public hearing held in Cebu City on Thursday.

Of the 15 resource speakers who were invited to represent the different sectors of government and the community, 10 strongly opposed proposals to overhaul the law of the land, four agreed, while one remained undecided.

Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision Of Codes, said all views would be included in a report that would be presented to the senators to help them make a decision that would reflect the sentiment of the majority, particularly on the issue of Charter change or shifting to a federal form of government.

“We believe that the issue of Charter change must go outside the halls of the Senate. It is an issue that greatly concerns each and every Filipino and not just politicians,” said Pangilinan.

“That is what democracy is all about. We respect all views. We strive to ensure that all sectors and opinions are covered whether for or against. The strength in our democracy is in how we live, not just speak democracy,” he added.

The Senate first public hearing on whether or not to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution was held in Cagayan de Oro last Feb. 22. After Cebu, public hearings will also be held in Cotabato, Baguio, and possibly in Bicol within the month.

“Information dissemination is critical. So many are still unaware of what this (Charter change and federalism) is all about. In the end, the voice of all Filipinos matter and yet how could they decide if they know nothing or less about the issue?,” he said.

During the public consultation held at the Cebu Capitol social hall on Thursday, most of the Cebuano resource speakers objected to plans to revise the 1987 Constitution, saying that the problem lies, not on the Constitution, but on the preference and practices of many politicians who serve their own interests.

But in the event that Congress will decide to revise the Constitution, they said it must be done through a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), where elected delegates can propose both amendments and revisions, instead of a Constituents Assembly (Con-Ass), which is composed of members of Congress.

On the other hand, those who favor the shift from presidential to a federal form of government clamored for the devolution of authority and resources to the regions or provinces that would eventually become federal states.

Sen. Franklin Drilon, who was also present during the public hearing in Cebu, however said that if devolution of powers and resources were what federalism proponents wanted, Charter change might not be the solution. “If there really is a need to amend the Constitution if we can do it through legislation, which is faster,” he said.

Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma, who came in the latter part of the proceedings due to an earlier appointment, expressed gratitude that the Senate listened to the voice of people.

“We join you in prayerful discernment,” he said.

Golden opportunity

Tuburan Mayor Democrito Diamante, the president of the League of Municipalities in the Philippines Cebu Chapter, was one of the few speakers favoring federalism as a means of breaking down the concentration of power on the central government.

“Since all of the power is centralized, it becomes all too easy for the government to fall out of touch with the majority of citizens. A unitary system is susceptible to uneven development where some parts are more developed than most, while other parts have seen little to no development,” he said.

Diamante cited the uneven distribution of funds, particularly the Internal Revenue Allotments, which lave left many local executives “at the mercy of the national government.”

“The local government units should get at least 60 percent of government revenues, while the national government should only receive a fair percentage that enables it to deliver services,” said the mayor, whose view was echoed by Dalaguete Mayor Ronald Allan Cesante, another speaker in the hearing.

Former Cebu Gov. Emilio Osmeña also supported the administration’s plan to shift to federalism, having been a long time advocate of regional autonomy.

“We, as a nation, are faced with a golden opportunity which, I hope this time, we will not miss out. Federalism will provide us with the freedom that will ensure unprecedented prosperity,” he said in a short statement.

Director Rene Burdeos of the Department of Interior and Local Government in Central Visayas (DILG-7) also agreed that the present system of government has resulted to an uneven distribution of resources among regions and local government units (LGUs).

“This inequality led to social unrest. We believe that the only way to bring about equitable and widespread development in our country is for the central government to share power — political and economic — with the regions,” Burdeos said.

No such thing as ‘new paradise’

But majority of the resource speakers did not believe that revising the 1987 Constitution would be an answer to the country’s political and economic woes.

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, said there is absolutely no need to revise it.

He said the issue of Charter change has overshadowed or sidelined all other major issues of paramount importance such as violations of human rights, peace and order, national security; and threats to territorial integrity.

“I hope our people may be able to fully understand what is it all about and not to be hoodwinked into believing in the new ‘paradise’ proponents of the Charter change promised for them.

The ‘new paradise’ is not for the people. It is for politicians who seek for power, fortune, and fame, and to perpetuate themselves in that power and to acquire more fortune and fame,” he said.

Lawyer Jose Glenn Capanas, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines Cebu City chapter, agreed, saying that “with the current political dynamics in the country and the sudden adherence to political powerplay by Congress, there is no need to change. It may only do more harm than good. With the way the Lower House has been behaving lately, it is not prudent to trust the changing of the Constitution to them.”

Lawyer Baldomero Estenzo, dean of the University of Cebu’s College of Law, said there is nothing wrong with the 1987 Constitution that would require its major overhaul: “I don’t think it’s the Constitution which is the problem. I think the problem is the implementation and the preference of our politicians. It seems that their interest is the primary consideration.”

Dangerous Cha-cha

Former Bayan Partylist Rep. Neri Colmenares, a human rights lawyer, warned that the proposed Charter change would be the worst thing that could happen to the country because it would be the President who has control over all branches of government.

“This is a dangerous Cha-cha because the oversight powers of the president include the legislative and judiciary,” he said.

Not many people know, he said, that the proposed revisions include exempting the President, Vice President, and legislators in Congress from tax deductions in their salaries; and allowing foreigners to buy and control the country’s land and natural resources, and education

“We can’t exchange the future of our children with the loyalty to a temporary president,” said Colmenares, who now chairs the National Union of People’s Lawyers.

While federalism could benefit Cebu, Francisco “Bimbo” Fernandez of Pagtambayayong Foundation-Cebu said there are many provisions of the proposal that are dangerous.

“The problem is in the details. Many of the proposals of the transition are also very self-serving and certainly condemnable,” he said.

“The political atmosphere that prevails in our nation today, unfortunately, do not bode well for a serious and rationale beliefs which is exteremely necessary if we are to craft a constitution that will promote democracy and justice for our belved country,” he added.

Lawyer Democrito Barcenas of the Free Legal Assistance Group – Cebu Chapter said federalism would not be good for the country: “Our problem is not caused by the 1987 Constitution but by self-interest and the avarice of most of our politicians. Our present constitution is not perfect but one of the best in the world.”

The others who opposed a shift to federalism were Dennis Derige of the Partido Manggagawa Cebu, urban poor leader Ronilo Montejo, student Jamil Faisal Adiong, and Fe Barino of the Archdiocesan Commission on the Laity.

Lawyer Joan Largo, dean of the University of San Carlos’ College of Law, said they have yet to come up with an official stance on the matter.

“A shift to federalism now would be a point of no return for this nation. It is our duty from the university to look at it in an objective viewpoint. We will make further study on this matter. We understand the urgency of the situation, but rest assured that our position paper on the matter will be evidenced based,” she said.

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TAGS: Cebuanos, cha-cha, Divided, federalism, over

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