A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva
The Bohol Chronicle
August 24, 2014
His 5th SONA. In his State of the Nation address last month the President tried his best to impress on the people his specific accomplishments and his many beneficiaries around the country. He desperately wanted to overcome the people’s aggravating problems from the damaging natural disasters that earlier struck Mindanao, then Bohol, and then Leyte and southern Samar—across to northern Cebu, southern Mindoro and the West Visayas, to Palawan. The legislators and guests listening to the SONA were very appreciative and generous in their applause. The President ended his address emotionally, intimating that he would be true to his parents’ moral legacy.
Before his SONA, the President certainly got credit from the indictment and arrest of high level politicians in the Senate, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, and the alleged pork barrel scam mastermind, Janet Napoles. The implication of so many more politicians, administrators, and tainted NGOs in plunder and malversation underscored the apparent achievement of the President.
In the prosecution of the implicated politicians, the President also got credit from the contribution of his principal allies: the courageous whistle blowers, the Secretary of Justice and the NBI, the Ombudsman, and the COA Administrator. Led by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the print and broadcast media did their great share in the exposē of the massive pork barrel scam.
But the President suffered from the apparent use of his presidential discretionary funds in rewarding the legislators who supported his initiative to impeach and remove Chief Justice Corona from office. This allowed the President to appoint his own choice as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He disregarded the tradition of appointing the most senior associate justice to the position.
The raging public outcry against the abuse of PDAP or congressional “pork barrel” funding led to the declaration of its unconstitutionality by the Supreme Court, and the President’s submission to this judgment. The President also used the DAP or Disbursement Acceleration Fund generated by massive “savings” of unused funds, devised by Secretary of the Budget Florencio Abad. Their justification was to maximize and accelerate the Administration’s funding of various urgent programs and projects around the country. But this massive and illegal funding led the Supreme Court to also declare the DAP unconstitutional.
Soon the national surveys of the Social Weather Station and Pulse Asia reported the sharp decline in President Aquino’s public trust and approval. Despite his administration’s impressive overall economic growth and international ratings, national surveys still showed high unemployment and continuing poverty: in short non-inclusive growth. And the price of vital consumer items have been rising. Moreover, people have been critical of the lack of infrastructure and public transportation, and the terrible traffic jams in Metro Manila. Positively, overseas Filipino workers maintain their contribution to their families and the whole economy.
The President openly criticized the Supreme Court’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the DAP. In his opinion the Court was obstructing his urgent and necessary funding for projects and programs to benefit suffering people around the country.
Recently, the President announced that he might seek a second term that would require changing the constitutional provision allowing the president only one six-year term. He had not secured the support of his Liberal Party to this idea. And he was always known to be against “tinkering” with the Constitution, also known derisively as “Chacha,” and affecting “the Cory Constitution.”
Meanwhile, the President and his supporters in Congress have not forcefully pushed the passage of the Public Information bill that would improve the transparency of public governance. Neither have they pushed hard on proposed legislation to support the anti-dynasty provision in the Constitution to counter our political oligarchy: politics and governance dominated by family political dynasties in most provinces and cities, and nationally. Their political patronage make our many poor and insecure citizens dependent on them and therefore unempowered citizens.
Bangsamoro: the model of a genuinely autonomous region and local governments. President Aquino deserves credit for achieving a Bangsamoro peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that had taken some 17 years of rebellion and negotiations. The MILF and government panels have formulated the draft basic law for the Bangsamoro political entity to be submitted to Congress. After its enactment and the President’s approval, the law will be approved in a plebiscite in the Bangsamoro territory and will be the basis of the election of its leaders in 2016.
It’s taken a lot of time and effort to formulate the organic act to replace the badly failed Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARRM). Bangsamoro would be an ideal autonomous region exercising ample political authority, powers, and resources. It could well be the model for extending regional and local autonomy to all the other administrative regions and their local governments. Provided that their voters assert their regional and local self-determination expressed in their own plebiscite.
Ideally, therefore, President Aquino and his party members and allies in Congress should propose an amendment of the Constitution that would use the Bangsamoro model for changing our highly centralized Unitary System to a devolved one, based on genuine regional and local autonomy, like Spain, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. This could later be a transition to a Federal Republic of the Philippines, like Malaysia, India, Australia, Canada, U.S.A, and the Federal Republic of Germany.
A possible historic legacy. President Aquino III and his allies in Congress have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to build and leave a remarkable and unforgettable legacy to the Filipino nation that will go a long way toward our constitutional vision of building “a just and humane society” (Preamble). For “The Philippines is a democratic and republican State. Sovereignty resides in the people, and all government authority emanates from them.” (The Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Article II. Section 1.)