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Federal Charter poses a headache — Sereno

By MJ Blancaflor and Dexter Tilo

Ousted Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has called the proposed draft charter a “headache,” deeming it unnecessary to address the current problems of the country.

Sereno said the charter drafted by the consultative committee would only bring confusion on debt payment, taxation, and the possibility of secession.

“Why do we create a mess? We are seeking a mess here,” Sereno said in mix English and Filipino during a forum on Saturday morning.

She also said that the reforms that the Con-Com has proposed can be done with the present Constitution.

“There is nothing that will prevent this present Congress from giving any economic benefit to the regions or the provinces that they cannot do so now within the present Constitution and using their legislative powers,” Sereno said during a forum in Quezon City.

The Con-Com has proposed a “distribution” of state powers traditionally concentrated in the central government.

But the former Chief Justice said that the state or national government to share revenues and divide some of its functions is already a recognized principle in the Constitution.

“I have not heard any member of the committee nor any member of Congresses nor present officer of the administation say that under the Constitution this is a necessary power that we must give the regions that we cannot give now.”

“Congress can already do that, then what is the reason for this charter change?”

Through legislation, can reorganize political subdivisions, Sereno said.

She added that the Congress can readily make a law which will penalize inefficiency of agencies of the national government.

“Kung kabagalan lang ay gawin ng batas kapag hindi nag-respond ang national government sa regional at provincial requirements ay ito ang karampatang parusa,” she added.

Other than this, Sereno said constitutional bodies such as the Office of the Ombudsman and Commission on Audit can also set performance standards to ensure that the national government remains efficient.

“E kung ganun naman pala e ano ba ang saysay nitong federal charter na ginagawa nila? ‘Yun na nga po ang problema eh, ano po ba ang tanong? Ano po ba ang problema na gusto nilang solusyunan sa charter na ito?” she said.

Sereno also raised the question on who will pay the country’s P 6.8-trillion external and local debt.

She said the draft charter made no mention if the national government or the 18 federal states will pay the debts of the country.

“We still have a lot of problems as a nation, but we do not know who will shoulder them,” Sereno added.

She added that the  Constitutional Commission, created through an executive order, did not include provisions preventing double taxation.

Should the new Constitution take into effect, Sereno said there will be several levels of taxes including federal taxes, state taxes, and barangay taxes.

Sereno also claimed that the federal draft charter is about “breaking up” since it raises the possibility of secession and division among federal states.

She noted that nothing will prevent secession since the new charter recognizes the right to self-determination of each federal states.

“The seed of secession is already planted within the federal charter,” she said.

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, committee chairman, previously said the proposed charter calls for a “union that is indissoluble, a federalism that is permanent, a bond that is eternal.”

Malacañang has yet to release a copy of the draft proposed by the 22-member consultative committee but a leaked version is making rounds on social media, which was called “ungenuine” by the ConCom.

In the same forum, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay urged President Duterte to assert the country’s rights on the West Philippine Sea by sending a diplomatic note to China expressing our complaints over their militarization in the areas within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

Hilbay said China, as a member of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, is still bound by the decision of the UN Arbitral Tribunal that favored the Philippines last year.

Hilbay was the government’s lawyer under Aquino administration when the Philippines filed a case against China.

The Con-Com tasked to propose amendments to the 1987 Constitution recently approved the final draft of its proposed federal charter to be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte.

“Baka tayo po ay iikot-ikot lamang. Baka tayo po ay sa tsubibo ay akyat baba pero hindi po tayo gumagalaw? Baka nasa tsubibo po tayong lahat,” she added.

The former top magistrate clarified that her statements were only based on an unofficial copy of the draft proposed federal charter circulating on social media and the remarks by the members of the Con-com.

A copy of the full draft has yet to be distributed to the media.

Under the Con-Com’s proposal, the federal republic will be composed of 18 constituent political units called federated regions, including the previously dissolved Negros Region, and the Bangsamoro, and the Cordilleras.

Topics: Federal Charter , Maria Lourdes Sereno
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