Charter Change and Federalism talks

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By Joel B. Belinan

“And for us in the Cordillera, the provision for an Autonomous Cordillera should remain. Never mind that we failed already twice in as many plebiscites but that dream should stay.“

Senators Robin Padilla and Raffy Tulfo are the most neophytes among our senators but they seem to have the guts or the political will to deal with issues that veterans are reluctant to tackle,
Senator Padilla who chairs the Senate Committee on Constitutional amendment supported by Sen. Tulfo has been holding a series of committee hearings relative to his proposed Charter Change to the shift from the present Centralized structure of government to a Federalized one. Of course, other than the two, other senators attended the hearings but only after these two neophytes made these possible.
I have been paying attention to these moves by Senator Padilla as he has been from the start of this congress vocal on his intent to immediately start the ball rolling relative to this always controversial issue. And as every vigilant Cordilleran is aware of, Charter Change will always be crucial to the existence and future of the Cordillera.
Will that provision of the present constitution providing for an Autonomous Cordillera be retained or will it ultimately erase all hopes for self-determination in this region?
This topic did not escape the attention of attendees of the Leaders Assembly last weekend of the “Ang Katipunan ng mga Samahang Maharlika.” (Ang KaSaMa) in Rodriguez, Rizal (formerly Montalban) of which I am the president. During that assembly, 80 percent of our discussions were anchored on this move by “a few good Senators”. I would like to volunteer the information here that our group, the Ang KaSaMa, since its start 22 years ago has been one among the very few lonely voices in the wilderness advocating for the amendment and improvement of the Constitution. Our group espouses the ideals of a decentralized structure of governance, ergo, we support a shift to Federalism.
All the leaders of the Ang KaSaMa fully support a shift from the present too centralized structure of government to a Federalized system. Our support is anchored on our ideological ideals, that a decentralized government would be more responsive to the needs of the people. The same cannot, however, be said of the form of government whether parliamentary (Unicameral Congress) or the present bi-cameral set-up (where we have the House of Representatives or Lower House and the Senate).
The arguments on the forms of government include: Our present set-up is too slow to address the issues and problems of the ever-changing times and we are the only country in South East Asia with this form of government. Furthermore, members of Parliament can be given an executive duty on top of their being legislatures. Hence if there are inadequacies in the implementation of laws and governance, they can only blame themselves instead of berating others during hearings in congress. That is why we had already been left behind in terms of development not to mention the fact that nationwide campaigning during elections under the present set-up entails big amounts of “campaign” funds which politicians will have to re-coup later when they are already in power. Remember that the president, vice president, and senators are elected by the entire country’s voters.
On the other hand, the main argument against the parliamentary form of government is it could easily become a stamp pad of the president or prime minister as the case may be.
Having a bi-cameral set-up of legislation provides checks and balances according to those who oppose the parliamentary form. In addition to the fact that under the present set-up defenders of the status-quo value the importance of having the president being directly elected by the people.
My take on these arguments is that an effort to fix loopholes in our present constitution should be a welcome move. We have all the things to gain as we are already down and there is no other direction but up by amending our present charter. The important thing here is for the people to get involved in this process and protect the good things that are already there.
For example, the National Patrimony provisions or those that protect our economy from being controlled by foreign interests should be retained if not strengthened.
And for us in the Cordillera, the provision for an Autonomous Cordillera should remain. Never mind that we failed already twice in as many plebiscites but that dream should stay.
Even in a Federal set-up, we in the Cordillera should be Autonomous. Why? Because becoming a part of the proposed Northern Luzon Federal State without being autonomous will return us to the situation before 1987 where the thinly populated Cordillera will again be relegated to being a second-class part of this country. Political leaders could then just ignore us due to our very small voting population. **


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