I am never a real believer of the Supreme Court. I have always seen the “justice” system as a state instrument of either sugar-coated repression or the spectacle of some justice.

I don’t deny though that there are some personalities that could make some institutions work for the people and their rights. I consider the current Chief Justice of the Philippines as one of them.

Despite being appointed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as Chief Justice, Reynato Puno continually upheld the rights and welfare of the Filipino people in the context of how the current administration is curtailing it.

Two of the most controversial issues under the Arroyo administration are the spate of extra-judicial killings and involuntary disappearances, and the perpetual attempt to tinker with the Philippine Constitution.

Under Puno’s watch, the Supreme Court of the Philippines stripped state agents of the simplest defense of denial whenever they are being questioned regarding human rights violations through the Writ of Amparo which is very much similar to Latin American countries’ Habeas Data.

Though I maintain that this document is a mere paper, it is still commendable that the SC chose to issue such a promulgation. And even if Philippine Congress has yet to legislate laws against torture and enforced disappearances at the very least, victims of human rights violations are given a legal reference for their defense.

If you think that this Puno initiative made Gloria mad, Puno’s stance on Charter Change will make her a psychotic.

Due to the series of controversies hounding the administration, they have no choice but to hold onto power to hide under the skirt of executive immunity. And the only way to do it is through a charter change of his allies, through a constituent assembly with both houses of Congress lumped as one.

Given that the Upper Chamber, even with Enrile at the helm, is dominated by Arroyo’s political enemies, they have to ensure that the Supreme Court will allow the House of Representatives and the Senate to vote as one. They want to drown the votes of the few senators with the overwhelming number of congressmen, rendering the Senate votes negligible. With Puno at the top, the hope for the Supreme Court to concur to such an idea is less easy.

Though we know that the Supreme Court will be soon dominated by Arroyo’s allies this year after the retirement of a handful of justices, the mere fact that the Chief Justice is against the Constituent Assembly scheme would doom the Gloria Forever Constitution. Such a scenario may induce controversy similar to the Estrada impeachment drama that led to you-know-what.

I chose not to dwell on the Limkaichong case as a lot of people already wrote about it. I chose to write about something that will aid everyone to answer the title of this article.

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The Philippine Senate led by its President Manny Villar and Minority Floor Leader Nene Pimentel recently filed a resolution seeking to convene Congress into a constituent assembly to change the form of government from unitary to federal.

I have always advocated charter change as the 1987 Constitution is not perfect. But for any constitutional reform not to be used to prolong this administration’s hold onto power, it should be made only after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation, ouster and/or, which is the worst scenario for me, after her term.

Aside from that, two of the most important phrases of the resolution is problematic; the terms “constituent assembly” and “federal government.”

It is somehow ironic that the resolution blabbers about decentralizing the powers as a pretext for federalism but the process itself is too centralized. For the process (and even the product) of any charter change effort to be relevant to the people, the people should be made part of it. In that case, I maintain that a constitutional convention is still the best method to effect constitutional reform. Best because it is better not just to constituent assembly but also when compared to the people’s initiative, which is a misnomer given the fact that its implementation in the present Philippine context requires a lot of traditional politicians’ intervention.

The most substantial problem of the Senate resolution is that it banners federalism. Federalism is not a panacea and not even a band-aid. For a system to truly work, we must take into consideration everything that will affect the system.

Federalism in the Philippines is being equated to decentralization, a term which is somehow nice to hear as it connotes that something is being too concentrated and it should be scattered. In Pimentel’s mind, one of the most staunch advocate of federalism in the country, this is about power and resources. This is where the phrase Imperialist Manila comes in.

We can’t argue about the fact that for long years already, our national government has been Metro Manila-centric due to its vast base of electoral votes. It is a political culture that tends to prevent the development of the provinces, federalists would say.

But “decentralizing” the power from the national government to the local governments could not be equated to an automatic development of the provinces. Given the situation of local politics in the Philippines, it is just like decentralizing the powers of the Arroyo’s, Marcoses, Cayetano’s and Estrada’s to the Ortega’s, Singson’s, Osmeña’s and more surnames of political clans.

Aside from this problem of political dynasties, most of the local governments in the Philippines is too populist in the negative way. I must agree that for some instances, populism could be positive as it could be tantamount to just doing what the masses want.

Because statistics is not a barometer for socio-political righteousness, populism has its negative side and it is having decisions that may be popular but is not right. It is like buying a hundred boxes of Biogesics because it is very much in demand in your locality than purchasing a medical equipment to cure or prevent a more dangerous disease. It is prioritizing building a basketball court in a barangay that has a voting population of 10, 000 than paving a concrete farm-to-market road where only 500 people could see.

This is the power and resources they want to decentralize. And this could go from bad to worse as we count years of federalism if charter change will push through.

Just like parliamentary compared to presidential, a federal system could really be better than a unitary one. But given the situation that we have here in the Philippines, we should think twice.