By Charmaine A. Tadalan, July 5 2019; Business World

Image Credit to ABS-CBN News

CHANGING the Constitution in the second half of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s six-year term that began in mid-2016 would be “disruptive” to the economy, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin E. Diokno said in an interview televised on Thursday.

“To me — I’ve seen many administrations — the best time to change the charter is during the first half of your term, not during the second half,” Mr. Diokno said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel when asked for his position on the legislature’s push for charter change.

“Changing the charter at this time is very disruptive, we’re doing great at this time, I describe it as ‘Goldilocks’ economy, just right,” he added.

This comes even as the President asked Congress in a June 25 speech to amend the 1987 Constitution, even if the change does not entail a shift to a federal system of government which he believes would give areas outside Metro Manila more opportunities and resources to develop.

Mr. Diokno said further that shifting to a federal system of government would be “very disruptive,” but said that changes to the Constitution’s economic provisions that will open up currently restricted industries and sectors further to foreign investors will benefit the overall economy.

“We’re only concerned with the confidence of the external investors coming in. How will they read the change? Is it a political move to perpetuate one person in power or something like that, but, if they see this change as favorable, it improves governance, they might come in,” he said.

“Right now the investors are convinced that the best game in town is the Philippines.”

Mr. Diokno said that any shift to a federal system will succeed only if — as in the United States, Germany and Switzerland — local governments are strong. In comparison, most Philippine local governments are “weak.”

“Do you know the most successful federal governments are those where the states are powerful in the first place,” Mr. Diokno said.

“Now provinces are weak, local governments are weak, so where is that element?”

Shifting to a federal form of government had long been a plan of the Duterte administration, beginning with the appointment of a 22-member Constitutional Commission, led by retired Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in January 2018. The ConCom, tasked to review the 1987 Constitution, later drafted the Bayanihan Federalism bill for submission to the 17th Congress.

The House of Representatives, however, came up with its own version, under Resolution of Both Houses No. 15.

The House version failed to secure Senate approval before the 17th Congress adjourned on June 3.

Sought for comment, University of the Philippines Political Science chairperson Maria Ela L. Atienza agreed that constitutional change at this point would be ill-timed, noting that the public might also see the move as an attempt to extend the president’s term.

“BSP Governor Diokno’s latest comments about charter change is consistent with what he said before the mid-term elections when he was still DBM (Department of Budget and Management) Secretary. This was consistent with the view of the economic team of the President. Together with NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) Director General (Ernesto M.) Pernia and DoF (Department of Finance) Secretary (Carlos G.) Dominguez, they agreed that charter change, especially the shift to federalism, will be very costly and will endanger many of the ‘Build, Build, Build’ projects of the administration,” Ms. Atienza said in an e-mail on Thursday.

“It is also true that the Duterte administration missed the opportunity to educate people about charter change in the first half of his term and convince the majority to support his administration’s proposals. By pushing for charter change in the second half, and with the President himself saying that he may no longer push for federalism but instead other smaller amendments in the Constitution (which he did not elaborate which ones until now), the timing is no longer that favorable. More people will think that there are plans to lift term limits or extend the current term of the President. There will be more resistance now than before. It is also true that if the administration will focus on charter change this second half of the President’s term, many of the economic projects he promised may be jeopardized or not prioritized, especially if they need Congressional approval.”

For University of Santo Tomas Political Science chairman Dennis C. Coronacion, however, Mr. Diokno will always be against charter change.

“I think his statement is not reflective of the reality. I tried to recall his interviews and I noticed… that he has always been against charter change. During the first half of the President’s term, when he was still Budget secretary, he already voiced his strong opposition to charter change and federalism. He said that since a federal government would have more offices, it would need more budget,” Mr. Coronacion said in a mobile phone message when sought separately for comment.