Manila: Leftist groups held a rally on Saturday to protest against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to change the constitution and shift to federalism.
The demonstration came on the eve of celebrations of the people-backed military mutiny that ousted former dictator Ferdinand Marcos 32 years ago.
“Those who favour charter change want the return of dictatorship similar to the Marcos era,” said a placard carried by a protester.
Several leftist groups flocked to the “people power” monument, a marker of the bloodless revolution that was held on Epifanio de los Santos Avenue (EDSA) in suburban Mandaluyong in 1986.
Protesters said Duterte and the majority of his allies in Congress wanted charter change “to perpetuate themselves in power beyond the end of their terms in 2019 and 2022,” adding the leader was showing the makings of a dictator just like Marcos who ruled for 20 years until his shameful ouster that elevated Corazon Aquino to the presidency,
At the time, Aquino changed Marcos’ 1972 Constitution, which had adopted the parliamentary form of government and a unicameral Congress, and restored the presidential form of government; the bicameral Congress, and the upholding of human rights.
“The people demand that the administration address the economic problems they are experiencing — these are far more important issues compared to the push for charter change,” Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan Muna, a leftist sectoral party at the House of Representatives told ANC, a TV station.
The leftists have also criticised Duterte’s bloody war against illegal drug trade which has killed almost 4,000 since he was elected in mid-2016.
But federalism would give local government units and regions more autonomy and power, including the Filipino-Muslims in the southern Philippines, explained former Senator Aquilino Pimentel, a proponent of federalism whose party launched the presidential candidacy of Duterte in 2016.
“In a federal form of government there will be more senators to represent wider regional areas including several ethnic groups, the Filipino-Muslims in the south and the other ethnic groups in northern Luzon,” explained Pimentel.
Federalism is the only way the government can implement the provisions of the pro-autonomy peace settlement signed by the Philippine government and the 40-year old Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf/Moro rebels) signed in 2014, during the time of former President Beningo Aquino, Pimentel added.
Malacañang had earlier declared Feb. 25 as a special non-working day to celebrate the bloodless revolt that changed the Marcos government in 1986. Some 1,850- policemen were deployed at EDSA ahead of the event on Sunday,
Lawmakers have begun parallel deliberations both in the House of Representatives and the Senate to change the 1986 Constitution and pave the way for Duterte’s push for federalism.