Duterte wants charter change to ‘avoid accountability’ for EJKs – analyst

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte may not be pushing for an entirely new constitution to shift to a federal system of government, but to allow him to stay in power beyond 2022 and thereby “avoid accountability” for the human rights violations committed during his term. 

This was the assertion made by Gene Lacza Pilapil, an assistant professor political science at the University of the Philippines, on Rappler Talk Monday, April 9. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: Is the Philippines ready for federalism?)

Pilapil also said Duterte could not be trusted with his promises, especially on not running again for president under the new charter. The professor earlier challenged federalism proponents to include a provision that would ban Duterte's reelection to "protect democracy."

“President Duterte will be the last person we could rely on for his statements. We are never sure whether he will not run. But if we analyze the logic of what’s happening, it’s actually trying to avoid accountability for human rights violations,” Pilapil said.

Duterte earlier announced that the Philippines would withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) – a month after the ICC started its "preliminary examination" of the complaint filed against him in connection with the high number of killings under his violent anti-drug campaign. (READ: What challenges will complaint vs Duterte face before ICC?)

Pilapil said the President has 3 ways to avoid responsibility: create a new constitution so he could again run for president again, suspend the 1987 Constitution by declaring a revolutionary government, and endorse a presidential candidate in 2022 who would surely win and protect him under a new regime. 

“And one name always mentioned is the daughter herself, Sara Duterte…. It’s probably the easiest if he is still popular by 2022,” he said.

Duterte had earlier joked that Sara, who succeeded him as mayor of Davao City, would be succeeding him as President as well.

‘Red flags’

Pilapil also cited red flags in Duterte’s push for charter change (Cha-Cha).

He pointed out that during the 2016 campaign, Duterte was pushing for a constitutional convention to amend the charter. Once elected, however, he changed his tune and pushed for constituent assembly, where the Senate and the House of Representatives – filled with his allies – would propose and approve the changes to the fundamental law.

The UP professor maintained that there is no need to overhaul the Constitution to achieve decentralization. He said it could be done by simply amending legislation, specifically the Local Government Code of 1991.

As it stands, Pilapil said, the Cha-Cha is already “dead,” as the Senate does not have enough votes to make it happen.

“It is dead because of institutional design, three-fourths of the Senate would not allow this. They would not allow voting [jointly]. They would not commit institutional harakiri," Pilapil said.

“The Senate has always been the stumbling block. We created presidents from the Senate. The Senate is the only other institution that has a national mandate.... It is not in favor of changing [the Constitution], they lack the 18 to approve this. They see Duterte as good for 6 years only," he added.

House and Senate members were earlier in disagreement over the mode through which the 1987 Constitution can be amended. House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez insists they should vote jointly, effectively drowning the 23 senators’ powers.

Senators, meanwhile, have reached a consensus to reject proposals to vote jointly. (READ: Joint voting on Cha-Cha? Senate's problems, plans against it) – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com