It is premature and mischievous for members of President Duterte’s consultative panel for Charter change to dangle the possibility of a postponement of the 2019 mid-term elections as a consequence of certain amendments to the Constitution that the panel may propose.
For a panel that is no more than a study group and has no statutory authority, we think the Cha-cha group has no business tinkering with the Constitution and resetting mandated nationwide elections next year. It will ignite immediately wide and heated public debate, which Filipinos are prone to engage in once there is a bone to pick.
The possibility of an elections postponement was discussed reticently by former SC Associate Justice and Cha-cha panel member Antonio Eduardo Nachura in a recent interview with an ANC broadcast anchor.
In the interview, Justice Nachura made a number of critical disclosures. He said among others the following:
1. The Charter change panel will complete its draft of the proposed new charter this week, and that the same will forthwith be discussed with leaders in the various regions in planned consultations.
2. The consultative committee headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno plans to submit its recommendations to President Duterte before his State of the Nation Address (Sona) in July. The panel hopes the President will discuss the proposed changes to the Constitution in his Sona next month.
3. Among the constitutional changes that the panel will propose is a major shift in the constitutional system from a unitary to a federal structure of government.
The panel envisions the creation of 17 to 18 federated regions. Metro Manila will become an administrative region, modeled after Washington DC and the District of Columbia.
4. The panel will propose a new constitution of the Senate under the proposed federation. Each region will be represented by two senators elected regionally.
The proponents of the Charter change hope that President Duterte will endorse their proposed Constitution to Congress for appropriate action to turn it into law.
If Congress approves the committee’s output by the end of this year, a national plebiscite on the new Charter will be held by around February 2019.
That date may be too close to the scheduled May 2019 mid-term elections. Justice Nachura believes that some lawmakers would be “inclined” to call for the postponement of the 2019 elections to make way for the plebiscite on the proposed Federal Constitution.
What is most disturbing about this is that postponement is pure speculation and has only a hypothetical basis—a draft of a federal constitution for the republic. The nation will be thrust into a contentious debate on something (draft charter) that is not yet fact.
The preparation of the nation for a shift to a federal system has yet to take its course. The necessary national debate has not yet taken place. There is no consensus whatever for federalism; there is only the repeated public statements of its advocates, including President Duterte and Justice Puno. And there are random objections being raised by those who seriously oppose changes to the 1987 Constitution
We heard many things that are meritorious in the proposed amendments cited by Justice Nachura, such as the creation of a more representative Senate.
We believe, however, that the postponement or deferment of the 2019 mid-term elections should be thought of carefully and convincingly argued by the Charter-change panel.
We have seen enough of political maneuverings and schemes by the powers-that-be during our publishing history to suspect that the postponement of next year’s elections may be the real scenario of the Charter-change committee, and not really the creation of a vastly improved Constitution of the Republic.