[B-SIDE Podcast] The danger of dynasties

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Antonio G. M. La Viña, a constitutional law professor at the University of the Philippines, thinks that the Philippine Constitutional Commission of 1986 made a mistake in giving Congress the power to decide on the prohibition of political dynasties instead of imposing limitations right then and there.

In this B-Side episode, Mr. La Viña talks to BusinessWorld reporter Patricia B. Mirasol about family dynasties, federalism, and structural change.

This is third and final episode in an Explainer series that previously featured Bernardo M. Villegas, an economist and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, and Norberto B. Gonzales, a former National Defense Secretary and National Security Adviser who ran for president in the 2022 elections.

TAKEAWAYS

Since congress has no incentive to amend the Constitution, a constitutional convention is a better option.

“Congress cannot be trusted to change the Constitution, because there’s self-interest there,” Mr. La Viña said, noting that 60%–70% of the lawmaking body is controlled by political families. “We have all of these husbands and wives and daughters and sons in multiple positions. It’s scandalous.”

The better avenue, he pointed out, is a constitutional convention or a body composed of elected representatives created solely to propose amendments or revisions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled that a people’s initiative — in which 12% of the total registered voters with every legislative district represented by at least 3% of registered voters therein — can only be used for purposes of amendments, and not a wholesale revision of the constitution.

There is a ‘right time’ for changing the Constitution.

First is when a country is in a serious crisis, such as when the president is sick or there is a budget deadlock, Mr. La Viña said.

The second is a matter of timing.

“Our experience is that we can only change the Constitution during the first two years of the presidency,” he told BusinessWorld. “After that, it’s all about politics going into the presidential elections … Nobody’s interested anymore in good structural change; it’s all about positioning of families and individuals.”

Federalism is dangerous without prohibiting political dynasties.

Federalism is dangerous without an anti-dynasty provision as it will allow families to control each region, thereby dividing the Philippines even more, Mr. La Viña said.

This episode was recorded in September 2022 at the Manila Observatory in Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. Produced by Joseph Emmanuel L. Garcia and Sam L. Marcelo.

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