Condescending voices continue to state that The Philippines is “not ready” for constitutional reform and worse yet that the Filipino people aren’t equipped to understand the reforms that are at stake. These insulting and borderline racist points of view defy both logic and good political strategy. In terms of the country “not being ready”, this would be a bit like telling a mother-to-be that after 9 months she is “not ready” to give birth even though her water had broken and the baby’s head was poking out. The fact of the matter is that just as a child needs to exit the womb after 9 months, so too does The Philippines need to exit from the restrictive 1987 Constitution.
The 1987 Constitution has given the country a costly, vulgar, ineffective and pseudo-democratic presidential system that could be transformed into an efficient, transparent, fully democratic and intellectually informed parliamentary system. Likewise, a country the size and shape of The Philippines would benefit immensely from a federal system that would take the money and power out of the hands of Imperial Manila’s elite and give it back to local and regional leaders who understand the needs of their people.
During his State of The Nation, Duterte’s beautiful words about the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao read like a pamphlet in favour of federalism. It also helps to realise that the form of government in the new autonomous region will be a parliamentary form of government.
Finally, the 1987 Constitution’s retrograde and economically idiotic restrictions on foreign direct investment (FDI) prohibit The Philippines from experiencing the kinds of economic growth and job creation that have had positively transformative effects on other ASEAN states including Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and even communist Vietnam.
Thus, one sees that for every problem with governance and legal red tape in The Philippines, there are three clear solutions that can be achieved through constitutional reform (aka charter change). No one is arguing that these three main reforms will automatically solve all of the country’s problems, but without making these reforms, the problems will not and cannot go away.
As such, it is clear that not only is The Philippines ready for such reform but that such reform is in fact long overdue.
As for people not understanding the necessity of or the nature of the reforms, this is not the fault of ordinary citizens but the fault of those doing the explaining. The system of entrenched elitism among Filipino politicians, political observers and “academics” has made it so that the elites go out of their way to speak down to ordinary people rather than speaking directly and clearly to them in a spirit of fraternal national pride.
Thus, although constitutional reform is the most serious issue facing The Philippines, it is actually a good thing that Duterte glossed over it in his State of The Nation. The SONA address tends to be far more formal than most of Duterte’s speeches. Whilst Duterte was very much himself during this year’s SONA, the fact of the matter is that Duterte is most happy when speaking to ordinary people rather than politicians. It is there that he can joke, he can be direct, he can swear and he can make seemingly outrageous points that cleverly help to get otherwise obscure topics into mainstream conversation.
Of his many great assets, Duterte’s personal ability to convey sincerity, genuine humour and an affection for those who love and trust their popular leader are by far his most outstanding qualities. In the final years of his presidency under the old system, Duterte can and frankly ought to use these assets to make the case for constitutional reform in ways that the old elitists never could do.
The 3 point agenda for reform aims to transform a needlessly complicated system into a simple and straightforward one. As such, there is nothing so difficult to explain that it cannot be easily understood if explained by the right kind of person.
During the SONA, Duterte criticised the shortcomings of his opponents and even offered very blunt self-criticism. Now is the time to speak directly to the people about the issue of reform and after that let the people tell the political class that they say ‘YES’ to CoRRECTING the constitution.