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Constitutional Amendments

The 1987 Constitution seems to have failed to make a connection between the electoral system and the party system. The latter defines the interrelationship between and among parties. The open party system mandated by the Constitution does not exactly fit a majoritarian type of an electoral system as it results in minority presidents. Scholars usually associate it with presidential systems that have relatively stable two-party systems such as that of the United States. Therefore, the combination of an open or multi-party system with a majoritarian electoral system in the Philippines, results in many parties competing for the presidency. Because party ideologies are not present, the common postelection scenario shows parties consolidating into coalitions with the winning presidential candidate. In terms of governance, these shifting coalitions yield an unstable political climate, vulnerable to breakdowns and crises.

Efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution have distinctively marked the national agenda since the early 1990s. Years of political instability and economic downturns have prompted key sectors of society, and the constituency it has spawned, to propose changes in the post-Marcos charter. Specifically, they want a shift to a parliamentary system of government. According to them, this form of government will correct the structural deficiencies inherent in the country’s political system that inhibit sustained stability and growth. However, the proposal is stalled by a lack of consensus on the process or mode of amending the country’s fundamental law. While indeed agreement on a process is important, the divisive nature of arriving at this consensus has sidestepped the substantive elements of the debate.

By its design, a parliamentary system is said to foster effective governance as it avoids the legislative-executive gridlock that so often occurs in a presidential form of government. Given that the executive and the legislature are usually controlled by the same majority party, it is claimed that it is easier and expedient to pass legislation in a parliamentary system. In relation to this, the parliamentary system follows the principle of ‘collective responsibility.’ In addition, parliamentary systems can pave the way for strong party discipline because deviation from the party line could result in the dissolution of the government. To ensure the political system’s survival and the efficacious and efficient formulation, enactment, and implementation of government policies, cooperation and coordination between the executive and the legislature are imperative.

In her State of the Nation address on July 25, 2005, President Arroyo called for the adoption of a unicameral parliamentary federal form of government to replace the current bicameral legislature/presidential unitary system. She abandoned her earlier preference of having a constitutional convention address proposed changes to the Constitution and instead supported the option of having the present Congress sit as a constituent assembly to make such changes, arguing that this was a faster and less costly process. In September 2005, the President established a 55-member Consultative Constitutional Commission to recommend amendments to the 1987 Constitution. The commission submitted its proposal to President Arroyo on December 15, 2005, which the President submitted to Congress for consideration in 2006.

The recommended amendments include shifting from a form of government characterized by a strong executive and a bicameral legislature/presidential unitary system to a unicameral parliamentary form of government. The amendments also call for the creation of autonomous territories and contemplate the introduction of a federal structure of government, as well as the liberalization of the restrictions on foreign ownership of land contained in the Constitution. The proposal also provides for the formation of an interim government, including an interim parliament comprised of current members of Congress, certain members of the presidential Cabinet and other presidential appointees, and a newly elected interim prime minister, who would share power with President Arroyo until the next general election scheduled to be held in 2010.

There was a movement to expedite the passage of these amendments through a process of initiative and referendum led by a nationwide group of local officials and a multi-sectoral group called “Sigaw ng Bayan” (Cry of the Nation). Sigaw ng Bayan claims to have gathered over eight million signatures, significantly more than constitutional requirement of 12% of the total number of registered voters. However, there are potential legal challenges to the process based on a 1997 Supreme Court ruling that found the initiative and referendum process sufficient to cover statutory enactments, but inadequate to initiate constitutional amendments to the Constitution.

Federal StatesUnder Joint Resolution No. 10 proposed in 2008 by then Sen. Pimentel, Duterte suggested the creation of 11 federal states out of the existing political subdivisions of the country with Metro Manila as the federal administrative region akin to Washington DC in the United States.

By 2009 many suspected Arroyo aimed to win election as Speaker of the House, primarily in order to use the influence associated with that position to protect herself and her family from accusations of corruption. Noting previous trial balloons from the President's allies about undertaking constitutional reform, and possibly shifting from a presidential to a parliamentary system, some believe Arroyo's ultimate goal was to restructure the government in order that she can once again become the nation's chief executive.

Rodrigo Duterte is an ardent advocate of federalism. Currently, the Philippines employs a unitary form of government with much of the power — decisions, policies, and programs — emerging from the central government. Programs of the national government are "downloaded" to lower-income municipalities without the benefit of evaluating whether they are applicable and sustainable.

Budget and fiscal autonomy have been a long-standing issue among local government units (LGUs) in the country. The Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) collects national internal revenue taxes. The pooled collection of national internal revenue taxes is split 60-40, with 60 percent going to the national government and 40 percent to the LGUs through the internal revenue allotment or IRA.

Duterte as the first Mindanaoan president and having served as Davao City mayor for nearly two decades was seen as someone who understands the issue. He described Metro Manila as "imperial" and even refused to stay at Malacañang, saying that it is a symbol of oppression.

The Duterte administration was planning to submit the changes to the people in a plebiscite that it planned to hold simultaneously with the 2019 midterm elections, with the end in view of shifting to a federal-parliamentary form of government by 2022.

Serious discussions on the proposal will begin only when the House approves the joint resolution calling to amend or revise the Constitution by convening the two Houses of Congress into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass). By October 2017 the House committee on constitutional amendments had created four technical working groups (TWGs) tasked to draft the proposed Philippine Federal Constitution.

The administration had to give up the proposed election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) in favor of convening Congress as Con-Ass because Con-Con will require a huge budgetary funding, ranging from P6 to P7 billion, on top of the budget for the salaries and office maintenance.

Amendments could include removing the provisions that limit foreign ownership in various sectors of the economy so the country could regain its competitive edge among other Asian economies in attracting long-term foreign direct investments (FDIs).

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