[OPINION | Newspoint] A souring plot
Feared or indulged as an autocratic provincial-city mayor for more than two decades, Rodrigo Duterte, as president, has had his way similarly, to no small degree. A captive Congress, a sycophantic secretary of justice, and a blindly obedient police force have much to do with that.
Whatever it is Duterte has got done, in any case, makes for dubious achievement. It tends to be motivated by vindictiveness, as with the imprisonment, on indeterminate charges, of Senator Leila de Lima, the human-rights watchdog who has been hounding him; or it has to do with fixations, of which the most dramatic is his war on drugs, which has left thousands dead and provoked a worldwide uproar among rights advocates.
Meantime, the plot around which he has built his political alliances has been running into major obstacles. Rewriting the Constitution in order to accommodate the shift they are pushing for from the present unitary system of government to a federal one is proving not so easy to pull off as they thought in spite of their ridiculous numbers – a 90-plus percent majority in the House of Representatives and a nearly 80%, as revealed by a voting pattern, in the Senate.
Duterte, the certified narcissist that he is, had at first thought he could swing the deal by sheer force of personality. He said he would set up a revolutionary government to get a new Constitution written so as not to lose time. But the secretary of defense and the armed forces chief served prompt notice they would not support such an unconstitutional arrangement.. That they did so in a briefing that the sidelined constitutional successor to Duterte, Vice President Leni Robredo, had asked for must have yet given their opposition, plainly spoken enough as it was, a righteously defiant quality.
Duterte backed off, for now, and left his congressional colluders to their own self-serving devices.
Predictably enough, the House of Representatives decided to itself tinker with the Constitution, instead of giving way to rewriters chosen by national vote or by other means that would somehow ensure an independent, suitable hand and a proper job.
Federalism’s short-term appeal to sitting congressmen and other officials lies with the prospect of their continuance in office unelected during the transition. Over the long term, by dividing the nation into autonomous states, federalism will likely only further entrench dynasties and other political clubs operating by patronage. Members of the House are precisely such types, elected by their district domains.
Not a few senators themselves come from the same political patron class, but, elected by national vote, thus answerable to a national constituency, they may have developed some measure of independent-mindedness. That virtue does not show decidedly in the senators’ opposition to the way things are cooking in the House, but, in a Senate where Duterte has so far won all his battles, any opposition is significant opposition. And this one is definitely serious.
Two basic things don’t sit well with the Senate: one, the uncertainty of its place in both the transition into a federal system and the federal system itself; two, the insistence by the Speaker that in bicameral voting, where two-thirds of the total number of votes is required to pass a motion, the vote of one senator should be equal to that of one House member, a patently ridiculous reckoning of parity between two equal houses: with 24 senators and 296 House members, the formula dilutes the Senate vote more than 12 times that of the House.
These differences are so critical they are bound to derail the Duterte federal express. And to one who can’t abide dissent, derailment is bound to trigger rage, itself a form of panic, a sense of which seems reflected in Duterte’s appointment of new cooks – consultative cooks tasked to produce draft amendments to the Constitution.
The group is headed, curiously, by a former Supreme Court Chief Justice who is himself no avid federalist or supporter of the idea of a sitting Congress tinkering with the Constitution – Reynato Puno. He and his cooks are given a few months to produce the dish.
Duterte is in a great hurry. He wants to put federalism on track, hoping to construct around it some reason, some excuse, some pretext to stop the May 2019 midterm elections. Elections are an iffy business. They could break his political gang, and ruin his plot. – Rappler.com