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Friday, July 19, 2024

Ring in the new

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“Ring out the old, ring in the new!”

That’s the familiar phrase with which many people have long bade farewell to the old year while greeting the new one. And as people start making their way back to their first full week of work post-holidays, we can take note of a number of brave new melodies being chimed on the national carillon.


The biggest one of course is Charter change, thanks to the bell-ringers among the administration’s allies in Congress who’ve promised to make it job number one this new session. The main theme is federalism, of course, but there are also important secondary themes:

Fusing, instead of separating, executive and legislative powers in a parliamentary system overseen by a strong but limited presidency;

Introducing proportional representation, laws against dynasties and turncoatism, and other reforms intended to strengthen our political parties;

Reforming the judiciary from the Supreme Court down; and 

Opening up the economy to market competition and foreign investment

These are important reforms that are long overdue. And perhaps because they’re difficult to challenge, the yellow opposition has fallen back on their old bag of tricks—red herrings, false alarms, scare tactics, “the big lie”—to try and sabotage them.

The most familiar red herring, of course, is accusing the current head of state of using Charter change to extend Presidential tenure. This was the accusation thrown at former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo that doomed previous efforts to modernize a 1987 Constitution obsessed with little else than erasing all remnants of the Marcos years.

This time, though, the scare tactic won’t stick, simply because Duterte’s entire body language betrays his singular desire to—if anything—leave office even earlier than he’s allowed. And so the Yellows have started trotting out other lies as well, both big ones and little ones:


The 2019 elections will be canceled in order to extend the terms of present officials by 10 years. As a matter of fact, 10 years actually refers to the period of time which the “regions” under a federal set-up are given in order to come up with their own “organic acts” or regional constitutions. And provincial and municipal officials who may be asked to govern the regions in a transition capacity during that period are still subject to the electoral cycle, including the May 2019 elections.

The President will be given extraordinary powers to appoint officials and make laws. This is found nowhere in the proposed new Charter drafted by the President’s own PDP-Laban party. Its source is clearly just the febrile imagination of the yellows.

The Senate will be abolished. The opposition is agitated by the good-natured exchanges between the Senate President and the House Speaker, both of whom at the end of the day are still party-mates. The most change that may be expected in the Senate will be the election of senators by region, as well as a redefinition of their powers in order to remove duplication of the Lower House’s prerogatives in the law-making process.

The economy will be thrown wide open to Chinese investors. This is the most primitive kind of nativist, protectionist, and xenophobic sentiment. Opening up the economy is intended to make us more competitive in the world and attract more investors, whether local or foreign, and not just the Chinese.


What we think may actually be problematic is the prospect of an impeachment trial of CJ Sereno in the Senate in May. This would sorely conflict with the urgency of drafting a new Charter in time for a plebiscite referendum by no later than the May 2019 elections.

This is a problem that Sereno herself can solve—if she’s feeling patriotic enough—by simply stepping down from office. Right now, the majority of the 15 associate justices of the Supreme Court may end up testifying against her. It’s no longer a question then of who’s right or who’s wrong, but whether or not she can still lead the High Court. When the majority no longer has your back, how can you claim to have any kind of mandate?

Luckily for the President, he doesn’t that kind of a mandate problem. In the latest SWS quarterly survey last December, 70 percent of the respondents said that Duterte has done a better job after less than two years in office, compared to his predecessor’s full six-year term. Twenty percent said they performed about the same, while only 8 percent thought that PNoy had done a better job in the presidency.

Those results mightily pleased a Duterte fan and friend of mine, whose colorful reaction was: “Mabuti na lang, wala pang 10 percent ang mga engot at bobong dilawan pala sa Pilipino!”

Of course I could never endorse such sentiments. Such language, such profanity—que horror!

Readers can write me at


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