Rough sailing for charter change seen

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan – and campaign promise – for the Philippines to shift to a federal form of government via charter change faces very rough sailing, considering that the overwhelming majority of Filipinos are against the change.

The latest Pulse Asia survey showed that 67 percent of Filipinos were against amending the Constitution, whether through constitutional convention or by Congress acting as constitutional assembly (con-ass).

The survey was conducted from June 15 to June 21 and covered 1,800 respondents nationwide. The bad news for Malacanang is that the 67 percent represents a three percent increase from the 64 percent who were not in favor of charter change according to a survey held in March, this year.

If changing the basic law of the land is not favored by nearly seven out of 10 Filipinos, almost as unpopular is President Duterte’s insistence on federalism, which would convert the Philippines into 16 federal regions not unlike the US and nearby neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia. About three out of every five Filipinos reject the change, or 62 percent.

Despite his high popularity with the people, President Duterte has not been able to convince the majority of the need to amend the charter and to shift to a federal form of government.

An official from the Department of Interior and Local Government saw “a deluge of misinformation” as the reason for the general rejection of federalism. DILF spokesman Jonathan Malaya said on Tuesday, July 17, that unnamed groups were effectively sabotaging government’s information drive. He also blamed Pulse Asia for asking misleading, contradictory or illogical questions.

Within his Cabinet, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had warned against the sudden shift to federalism, and this would trigger runaway inflation.

A reported plan to “fast track” charter change by convening Congress as a con-ass when the president delivers his State of the Nation Address next week was immediately derailed when even Mr. Duterte’s allies in the Senate rejected the proposal.

The House of Representatives had voted earlier to convene as a con-ass, but may not do so without the concurrence of the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri admitted that they did not have enough votes to push for the plan.

The Duterte administration recently began an “information roadshow” to convince the people to take a closer look at the merit of charter change and the federalism that goes with the plan.