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Some changes will need Charter amendment

IN line with his campaign promise to stop crime and the spread of drugs in the country in three to six months, presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte has proposed the restoration of the death penalty for its deterrent effect on crime. He even proposed that the penalty be carried out by hanging, instead of lethal injection which replaced the electric chair in the Philippines when the death penalty was still in force.

The Constitution includes in its Bill of Rights a provision against crude, degrading, and inhuman punishment.

“Neither shall death penalty be imposed unless, for compelling reasons involving heinous crimes, Congress hereafter provides for it.” The new administration needs to gather a majority in Congress to pass the needed law to return the death penalty for heinous crimes, including pushing drugs which, in the view of many, is such a crime, responsible for so much misery in Philippine society today.

Any move to restore the death penalty is bound to be strongly opposed, especially by the Church. It will also be pointed out that under our present justice system, the poor are more likely to be condemned to death than the rich and resourceful. There will be demands for proof that the death penalty has an actual deterrent effect on crimes.

And it will be cited that the death penalty has already been banned in 101 countries worldwide.

Duterte is pushing for another basic change, this one in the Philippine system of government. He is pushing for a federal system of government, a basic plank of the PDP-Laban party under which he ran in the recent elections. The present highly centralized form of government is deemed by many local officials in the country as too insensitive to the needs and problems of local communities, especially in the remote parts of the country. It is believed that the country will achieve greater and more equitable progress if government authority to determine projects and allocate budgets were devolved to local officials.

This proposal, however, runs counter to the present system of a strong national government. The Constitution provides for “autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras” – the rest of the country has provinces, towns and cities, and barangays. We already have a Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and an Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which could be transformed into the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has proposed similar autonomous regions for the rest of the country – one each for Metro Manila, Northern Luzon, Central Luzon, Mimaropa, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, and Southern Mindanao. But this will require amendment of the Constitution.

The Duterte administration appears determined to carry out many important changes in the country; after all, the people wanted change when they elected him to office over other more conventional candidates. The return of the death penalty can be done by act of Congress but establishing a federal system of government requires an amendment of the Constitution. Early in the incoming administration, a Constitutional Convention could be called to carry out the more basic changes such as federalism and perhaps some changes in the Constitution’s economic provisions.