Sunday, August 1, 2021

Tanong ng Bayan Online, 20 February 2021


Questions and answers on Constitutional Reform

General questions about changing the constitution:

1. Why is there a need to change the constitution? 

There’s a need to change the constitution because our problems are not only about how the laws are implemented. They are also about how the laws are made. This includes the constitution, the highest law of the land.

2. Why not just pass new laws if there are changes in our country we want implemented?

Laws will not be enough because the gravest problems in legal system come from the constitution itself. These problems are not only economic, but also political and social.

3. What are the major changes included in the People’s Draft? 

The major changes include the following: to open the economy to foreign business, otherwise closed for local business only; to shift from “one-man rule” to “collegial rule;” to shift from “voting at large” to “voting by district;” to establish regional centers of government; to equally promote the tri-people for unity in diversity. At the local level, voting will be by single-member subdistricts. By tri-people, I refer to the Christians, Muslims and Indigenous Peoples.

About parliamentary system:

4. Why do you want to have a parliamentary system of government? Why what’s wrong with a Presidential system?

The presidential system is basically one-man rule. A single popular individual, not necessarily supported by majority of the people, controls the entire executive branch of government. On the other hand, the parliamentary system is based on majority rule, through a college or group of people’s representatives voted in multiple small districts nationwide. 

5. Isn’t the USA a Presidential system, yet they are the biggest economy in the world?

The US system is not purely presidential. The president himself is voted like the prime minister, through a body of representatives elected in multiple small districts nationwide. The US system is also founded on a network of components state, each one with capability to be a country by itself. Thus, the US experience does not apply to us.

6. How do you answer the fact the Marcos created a parliamentary system and it did not turn out too well for the country?

Mr. Marcos did not create a parliamentary system. The 1973 constitution was a semi-parliamentary (or semi-presidential) system. It had an independent chief executive, and a cabinet dominated by members of parliament (or Batasan). More importantly, the 1973 constitution was not fully implemented, particularly the succession provisions for president. Instead, we had the 1976 amendments allowing Mr. Marcos to rule indefinitely w/o term limits. It also gave him legislative powers side-by-side the parliament (or Batasan). With the 1976 amendments, the system became a supra presidential system.

7. How can we assure that we will not end up with a dictatorship when we have a parliamentary system?

A parliamentary system can work better than a presidential system to prevent a dictatorship, because the former is based on collegial rule, while the latter is actually already one-man rule.

8. In a parliamentary system, it is like that it is congress sets the agenda for the country. Why do you trust congressmen too much when we think we cannot trust them?

Yes, it is the congress of people’s representatives elected nationwide, that controls the agenda of the country. That is much better than one person, who does not necessarily have majority support, controlling the national agenda. Moreover, congressmen elected from multiple small districts, are better known to their constituents, compared to the president, vice-president and senators elected nationwide at large, whom the voters know only through mass media.

Under the People’s Draft, to promote political democracy, a similar selection process is adopted at the local level. Councilors will be elected from multiple small single-member subdistricts, where candidates are better known to the voters.

9. People suspect that congress would want this to perpetuate their terms, what do you say to this?

I have not seen any proposal from congress to provide for extended terms without need for elections. Anyway, to prevent this, our group of advocates came up its own crowd-sourced constitution called the People’s Draft, to clearly and strongly prohibit any extension of terms without elections.

10. Which countries are successful under a parliamentary system?

We have the United Kingdom and Japan, from both the West and the East. Closer to home we have Malaysia and Thailand.

11. What do you say to the idea that people will lose their capability to vote for their leader directly for president?

That idea is wrong. We simply need to follow the way US elections for electoral college are done. The ballots will indicate not only the candidates for the district, but also the nominee for the president. The voters then can choose who to vote for. 

In the People’s Draft, a similar voting process is adopted at the local level. Here the ballots will indicate not only the candidates for the single-member subdistrict, but also the nominee for the mayor. 

12. By the way, in your draft, how do you call the leader of the country? President? Doesn’t it make it presidential?

In the People’s Draft, the chief executive is called president, because this is the term understood by the people for the top executive post. Anyway, Congress may change the job title later.

13. If there is a popular personality who wants to become president, what is the steps he or she should take? Can he/she be President?

Under the People’s Draft, this popular personality should join or form a political party with a national constituency, because the parliamentary system is based on collegial rule, rather than by one-man rule. Here, it is a college or group of political personalities, acting together as one, that takes ultimate control of the government.

About terms and term limits:

14. In the people’s draft, will there be term limits? Are term limits good or bad? How about the argument that in a parliamentary system, it is impractical to have term limits because politicians rise from the ranks in the parliament before he or she becomes a leader of the parliament?

The People’s Draft provides for a 3-term limit, because it is a crowd-sourced constitution, and that is the feedback we got from the crowd. Personally, I think the argument for lifting term limits is reasonable and justified, particularly for a parliamentary system based on collegial rule, where party members move up the leadership ladder only through a considerable amount of time. For now, however, I think it’s more practical to go by popular sentiment, because of too much negativity in mass media. Anyway, the People’s Draft contains a provision allowing Congress to lift term limits later, say 15 years after its approval.

15. Why do you come up with a 5 year term? Why not 4, why do away with 6? Why not 3?

Based on general feedback, 3 years is too short. During the 1st year the pols learn, the 2nd year they work, and the 3rd year they campaign. Before the 1987 constitution, the term was 6 years. 5 years is therefore a compromise. Moreover, it’s 5 not 4, for consistency with economic development plans which are generally designed in multiples of 5 years. 

On federalism:

16. Unlike in the USA, they have large states. Aren’t we too small for a federal republic? Do we really need federalism? What other countries are federal systems?

The People’s Draft does not impose federalism nationwide. Instead, it implements flexible regional decentralization, where the people have 3 choices, i.e. regional authority (like SBMA), autonomous region (like BARMM), and substate (like Sabah). 

Since our country is composed of 3 peoples and cultures (i.e. Christians, Muslims, Indigenous Peoples) spread across 7,100 islands, I believe some regions may eventually choose to have their own substate. 

Malaysia is a much smaller country, but it has federal form of government. In the end, it is not only about size. It is also about culture, politics, economy, and the choice of the people.

The best example applicable to us would be Malaysia.

17. How is it different to be under a federal system versus our present system?

Under the federal system, a substate will be sovereign, and will have its own legislative and executive branches, and later its own judicial branch. It will have its own internal security force to secure persons and properties, but not its own police or military. Secession will be prohibited, and legislative powers on taxation and business limited.

18. I understand that the People’s Draft is proposing a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach? Can you explain the difference between these approaches?

By “bottom up” approach, we allow the people of the regions to decide the type of government they will have. If they want an autonomous region or substate, they should work for it and win a regional plebiscite, in the same way that BARMM was created. 

By “top down” approach, federalism or regional autonomy for the entire country is already pre-designed, and the people will be limited to a yes or no vote in a national plebiscite.

19. Why does the people’s draft prefer the bottoms-up approach?

We believe it is important to respect the people’s right to self-determination. Moreover, we are a nation of tri-people (Christians, Muslims, Indigenous Peoples), with different and even conflicting histories. Thus, we prefer the bottom-up approach.

On FDIs:

20. Do we really need to open our country to FDIs? Why do we want to have FDIs?

We need FDIs to augment local capital for job creation, price reduction and tax generation. The policy to close the economy to foreign business has been there for 85 years already. Now, we have 10% of the population living overseas, and more than 20% living in poverty. We urgently need to make use of ALL resources available, to address the very serious economic problems we face.

21. What industries do you plan to open up? How about ownership of land? Why or why not?

Under the People’s Draft, everything is open except land, small-scale mining and micro-enterprise. Nonetheless, all foreign investments will subject to regulation by a foreign investment council to protect national security. The President or Congress may impose reciprocity in investments, if the national interest requires it. Congress may by law also impose limitations later, if again the national interest requires it. For professional practice, reciprocity is required, which is the current practice.

For land, I think alienable public lands should be for Filipinos only, because this is like their inheritance to the national patrimony. For private land however, I personally think we should be more open. For example, owners of very costly industrial facilities would be more comfortable if they owned, instead of just leased, the small parcel land where the facility is built. For mass housing, I think it will be cheaper if you have more developers competing with each other. Anyway, Congress has the power to prohibit foreign ownership of land at any time, if national interest requires it.

Nonetheless, the People’s Draft excludes land for now, because it is a crowd-sourced constitution, and this appears to be the sentiment of the crowd. Anyway, Congress is given the power to revisit this issue later, based on national interest.

22. Why not just revise the old constitution by putting in “unless otherwise provided by law” on the economic restrictions?

We have a Foreign Investments Act approved way back in 1991 to declare the policy to promote investments. However, for the past 30 years, there was no substantial follow through, except only for retail trade and financing companies. Thus, based on the track record of congress, I think nothing much will happen if we simply add the clause “unless otherwise provided by law.” 

23. Do you have examples of countries that succeed while their economy is open to foreign investors?

We have small and big countries close to us that successfully used foreign investments to grow and develop. There’s Singapore and China.

24. Are there countries where land can be owned by foreigners?

Based on an old survey by the World Bank on Investing Across Borders, about 20% of the countries globally prohibit foreign ownership of land. Thus, an overwhelming majority of about 80% allow it.

25. Are there countries that are closed to foreign investors that prosper on their own?

I understand that Japan, South Korea and Taiwan may have developed with local investors taking the lead. They were family-owned corporations that partnered with government. In the Philippines however, the large family-owned businesses here did not go into industrialization. They instead went to real estate development, retail and public utility services. Moreover, the prospect of a family-owned business partnering with government may only be pulled down here as a “crony” corporation. Thus, the experience in our neighbors in North East Asia, does not necessarily apply to the country.

On procedure to amend the constitution:

26. I understand it is hard to change the constitution because the manner by which to change it is difficult – made so by the constitution itself. So how do you go about pushing for this?

Yes, by our hard experience first-hand, it is almost impossible to change the constitution, because the forces opposing it are apparently much stronger than a sitting president. Thus, I have come to believe that only a whole-of-nation approach will finally succeed in changing the constitution. It’s like a “soft” people’s power where all sectors, peoples and regions come together to achieve a common goal. 

With this mind, we are carrying out an information, education and communication campaign, in both social media and traditional media. We are also building a network of people’s organizations that believe in system change. Finally, we will be filing with the Senate and the House, a petition for indirect initiative to consider the People’s Draft for plebiscite in May 2022.

27. How about people’s initiative, why not push it this way?

The traditional people’s initiative needs at least 6M signatures. We do not have the capability to gather such a huge number of signatories. Thus, we will only go for building a network of people’s organizations across the different sectors, peoples and regions, to push for constitutional reform.

28. What is your take on Constituent Assembly? Why not Constitutional convention?

I do not believe that a constitutional convention will be any different from a constituent assembly. The members of a constitutional convention will be elected from the same districts where the present members of congress come from. Accordingly, I expect the same incumbent political forces, to dominate elections for delegates to the constitutional convention. 

29. If the draft is passed, what then is the proposed way of constitutional amendment in the people’s draft itself moving forward?

Our petition for indirect initiative merely calls on the Senate and House to convene as constituent assembly, and consider the People’s Draft for plebiscite in May 2022.

30. Isn’t it dangerous to have the way to amend the constitution easier than what we have now? Is it not dangerous the change the constitution every now and then where politicians are like having their way?

I think it’s anti-democratic and more dangerous to have the constitution written stone, that cannot be amended even by the people themselves. The problems we have are not only about how the laws are implemented. They are also about how the laws are made. This includes the constitution, the highest law of the land.


31. What about the lingering issues on the integrity of the automated elections, considering that a new constitution will require voting in a plebiscite?

The People’s Draft addresses this problem by incorporating a provision that expressly requires a manual count or audit, immediately after the close of voting, and even if the system is automated. This is our hybrid election clause. 

Interviewer: Mr. Arnel B. Endrinal

Interviewee: Atty. Demosthenes B. Donato

Date: 20 February 2021

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