“Constitutional Reform in the Philippines: Two Worrying Omens”, by Malcolm Cook

2018/80, 23 July 2018

Supporters of federalism in the Philippines have long argued that revisions to the 1987 Constitution would not be limited to replacing the current unitary state system with a federal one. Instead revisions would extend to relaxing the 1987 Constitution’s articles and sections limiting foreign participation in utilities and key services, and introducing articles constraining political dynasties.

These three reforms – federalism, economic liberalization, and anti-dynasty provisions – are presented as a good governance package deal. Together, they would reduce the concentration of executive power in Metro Manila, the concentration of economic power in local family-controlled conglomerates, and the control of elected political posts by political dynasties.

The draft of the new constitution under consideration by the Philippine Congress has largely retained the protectionist articles and sections of the 1987 Constitution that cover natural resources, public utilities, land, the professions, the media and advertising, and educational institutions. Congress, if and when they determine how they plan to pursue constitutional revision, could choose to amend these articles and clauses in the draft. This is unlikely.

The draft constitution does include a new section dedicated to prohibiting “political dynasties to prevent the concentration, consolidation, or perpetuation of political power in persons related to one another.” The draft Bangsamoro Basic Law included a similar anti-dynastic section in relation to the creation of a new regional autonomous government for Muslim Mindanao. The two houses of Congress have signed off on the Bangsamoro Basic Law and submitted it to the President. However, in their deliberations, they struck out the anti-dynastic provisions in the draft bill. The same fate may well face the anti-dynastic section of the draft constitution. The majority of the members of Congress (and President Duterte himself) are members of political dynasties.

The draft constitution as it stands does not address the concerns about the concentration of economic power. If Congress strips the draft constitution of its anti-dynastic section, as it did with the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, then the introduction of federalism will likely increase the concentration of political power in family dynasties. One out of three is not good.

Dr Malcolm Cook is Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
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