Charter changes to institutionalize reforms, Senate told

January 29, 2020

Proponents of constitutional reforms from an inter-agency task force created by President Rodrigo R. Duterte said yesterday it is time to reform the Philippine Constitution to reflect the current needs of Filipinos and help solve problems in Philippine society that worsened instead of easing since its passage in 1987.

Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya, in a briefing for the legislative heads of senators’ offices, appealed to senators to back the political, electoral, social, and economic reforms pushed by the Cabinet-level body created by the President last year to coordinate the government’s constitutional reform agenda.

Malaya cited the proposal of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Constitutional Reforms (IATF) chaired by DILG Secretary Eduardo Año for the inclusion of a self-executing ban on political dynasties in the Constitution which is meeting opposition from congressmen.

“Sana po suportahan ito ng ating mga senador (I hope our senators will support this),” the DILG official asked the legislative staff of senators who attended a briefing on the IATF proposals for amendments to the Constitution.

Malaya said among the reforms being proposed by the IATF are provisions to empower regions and increase the Internal Revenue Allotment of local government units (LGUs) so they could better address income inequality and lack of economic opportunity among Filipinos that had bred generational poverty and widened the gap between the rich and the poor especially in remote provinces.

The Senate is no stranger to this reform measure proposed by the IATF, citing the Local Government Code that sought to devolve funds and authority to LGUs which originated in the Senate with the late former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. as author and advocate, former Vice-Gov. Fortunato Peña noted.

Peña said the IATF’s proposals give regional LGUs more share of resources from the national government and more powers to choose their development tracks instead of the current system.

Atty. Vicente Homer Revil, National Chairperson of the CORE Movement which is campaigning for the constitutional amendments, said the reforms sought by the Duterte Administration match many of those that had been discussed in the Senate over the three decades since the passage of the 1987 Constitution.

“We all seek reforms in our society and yet we refuse to put them into our Constitution,” Revil pointed out. “We continuously freeze action on the changes we need to do in our society because we fear that the restrictions will affect us first before anyone else,” he added.

Malaya assured the legislative heads of the Senators’ offices that senators would be doing the correct move in supporting these reforms, noting the positive statements from several senators on proposals to open the economy to foreign investors as a common starting point where an agreement could be reached on which provisions in the 1987 Constitution should be amended.

“I hope that this generation, our generation, will finally amend the Constitution. The time for reforms is now, not later,” Malaya said.

Finance expert and former Presidential Spokesman Gary Olivar said the Philippines has among the strictest rules that constrict the inflow of foreign capital, thus putting the Philippines behind other nations in developing industries that are capital- and technology-intensive.

One consequence of such investment restrictions is the country scoring lowest among Asian countries in cutting poverty rates, Olivar noted. It is only logical for the economic restrictions in the Constitution to be removed so the Filipinos could benefit from a more vibrant investment climate, he added.

Prof. Jose Ramon Casiple, a veteran reform advocate, pushed for political reforms as a necessity in ensuring the Philippines’ social and economic progress.

He said the 1987 Constitution constricts efforts to make political reforms a reality because it concentrated government resources in the hands of the national government under the unitary system.

“Many political reforms in the 1987 Constitution were never carried out,” Casiple said, citing the ban on political dynasties and the reforms in the political party system.

Casiple noted that the ban on political dynasties cannot be left in the hands of the political elite because they have benefitted from the political and electoral system enshrined in the 1987 Constitution without being curtailed by voters.

“The development of political clans have developed the phenomenon of a monopoly in political power,” he added.

Prof. Eric Daniel De Torres and Prof. Alfredo Sureta Jr., members of PDP-Laban Federalism Study Group, spearheaded the open forum following the briefing.