As early as August last year, noises coming from administration sources spoke of charter change on the basis of the proposal for a change from the present unitary state to a federal one. Today, the noise has become clearer–Malacañang now speaks of the need to break the supposed impasse in the GOP-MILF negotiations through the establishment of a Moro state within a federal state system.
On its face, the charter change initiative seems logical. Federalism has been one of the major constitutional reform on the table, along with the proposal to shift to a parliamentary system. Again, the demand for a Moro homeland fits neatly within the federalist system.
However, there are three things that lent the present initiative a strong negative political reaction.
One, federalism as a constitutional political option has even wider and deeper implications than the proposed parliamentary shift. The national discussion on the issue has barely started–there is the nagging unease of a leap into the unknown here.
Two, the attempt to require the charter change as a condition or even as a precondition for an agreement with the MILF puts the cart before the horse. The constitution provides the fundamental guide for state policy–it cannot be put on the line as a negotiating chip without risking its violation by government negotiators. The risk of the charge of treason against them for proposing to dismember the Philippine territory is present in the current negotiations. The GMA government has to come clean first on what it really promised the MILF in the controversial issue of “ancestral domain.”
The most that can be done by the negotiators is to promise constitutional reform, if needed. They cannot promise what they do not have the constitutional authority to promise.
Three, the proposal for charter change comes at a time when the GMA administration has a very low political capital left and the specter of a lameduck presidency appears in the horizon. There is the overriding reality of a constitutionally-mandated end to her term in 2010. There is therefore that widespread suspicion that any charter change–for whatever reason–is connected to an attempt to prolong her stay in power beyond 2010. In the proposal for a federal system, the inevitable transition provisions (including the one by the 2006 Presidential Consultative Commission) speaks of the possibility of the current president remaining in office during the transition and even in the new constitutional set-up.
Charter change runs the risk of being rejected outright by the people, opposition, and all presidentiables during the last years of GMA’s term. The only possibility here is for charter change that does not alter the political equation leading towards the 2010 presidential elections. Right now, that possibility is embodied only in a constitutional convention with delegates to be elected simultaneously with the 2010 elections and the convention working under the term of the next president.
Federalism–not even the negotiations with the MILF–cannot trump the constitutional reality of the 2010 presidential elections.