I believe that charter change is a fundamental and necessary component of any attempt to reform and overhaul our political system, such as the platform of my party, Akbayan, to shift to parliamentary & federal forms of government.
However, the plan of the House of Representatives to push for a constituent assembly (Con-ass) rather than a constitutional convention (Con-con) to amend the country's charter goes against the interest of democracy and active citizenship, especially with a House where the heavy hand of the Executive was so plain to see.
We cannot set aside democratic processes and dismiss people participation simply because the fiscal cost of such democratic endeavors are allegedly staggering and/or expensive. This is a dangerous thought. This is the seed of undemocratic politics. It assumes that democracy is a luxury rather than a right that developing countries like ours cannot fully enjoy. It assumes that democracy has a price tag and that it can only be enjoyed by the people,subject to the availability of funds.
The attempt for a "cheaper and faster" mode to amend the constitution also raises concerns that the shift to federalism is being done haphazardly. I urge the government to take the necessary time in fulfilling the important and difficult requirements in order for the shift to federalism to become successful. This includes breaking up political dynasties, dismantling private armies, and building financial sustainability, among others.
Likewise, I am extremely worried that some vested quarters are pushing for Con-ass as this is less prone to public scrutiny and more susceptible to the control of big business, political dynasts and traditional politicians. I am wary that this will renew desires to relax constitutional limits on foreign ownership of land and businesses. It can be recalled that during the campaign, President Duterte mentioned that he is open to lifting the Charter's restriction on foreign ownership of Philippine corporations. This is completely opposite to the principles of federalism. Federalism's goal is to equitably distribute development and resources to the regions. The government cannot effectively redistribute wealth by giving premium to foreign interests.
I urge the House of Representatives and President Duterte to reconsider their take on this matter. I am confident that the government has enough resources to fund the necessary costs of building the democratic infrastructure and processes for people to directly participate in progressively amending our constitution.
The process of revising the constitution must be participatory and democratic. There should be no shortcuts in democracy. The political and economic ambitions of a few cannot lord over the people's interests.
Contributed by by Senator Risa Hontiveros