The knife’s edge

There’s a lot being said about the possibility of the 2019 elections being scrapped in case the efforts to shift to federalism bear fruit. A lot of it, though, boils down to speculation. Here are the facts as they currently stand: the 1987 Constitution remains intact and in effect; who will end up being responsible for preparing the draft—either Congress convening as a constituent assembly or a new constitutional convention—hasn’t been decided; and there isn’t even a draft of the proposed new constitution yet. So all this noise being made about the issue can be solidly interpreted as being nothing more than an exercise in putting the cart before the horse.

I’m not going to theorize as to why that particular tack (yes, it’s tack, not tact) is being taken, but that is all that’s happening right now. I say this not to lull anyone into a false sense of security or complacency. Far from it. I am pointing out how things stand so that those who feel that the avowed goals of the federalists are wrong or present a threat to democracy can marshal their resources and strategize a coherent and logic-based (as opposed to a hysterical and fear-based) response. Because that is what democracy needs.

Like it or not, democracy does not thrive in the monochromatic world of perfect consensus. Democracy lives along the chaotic knife-edge between competing philosophies, and that edge is what is being brought into ever-sharper focus by those who are pushing for a shift in the form of government. As scary as that might be to some people, there are others who believe that it holds abundant promise for a better future. As voters—hopefully more woke than sheep-like—we all have to be aware of that so that we can choose which side we’re going to support.

With any luck, that decision will not be made based on love (or hatred) for the personalities leading the charge on either side. For the sake of our democracy, I hope the positions we take as we march inexorably into this debate will be defined by our personal understanding of what the nation stands to gain or lose; by our informed acceptance of the costs we will have to pay should we decide this way or that; and by a deep-seated conviction that we are correct in our analysis of the situation we are facing.

We, as voters, must also be aware that we can come to a principled position on the question of federalism—based on comprehension, acceptance and conviction—only if we do not treat this national conversation as a spectator sport. We cannot afford to leave this decision to others; nor can we “just wait for the plebiscite.” We must strive to be active participants in the process that proposes the changes that will later on be submitted to the electorate for its approval or disapproval.

We must not accept the fiction that there exists a privileged class of persons who alone “know best;” do not expect that things will work out great if you “simply have faith” enough to avert your eyes. There’s nothing wrong with trust—and yes, a chronic mistrust of government will inevitably lead to paralysis—but neither is there anything wrong with being protective of our future, especially when the stakes are high.

Turning Points 2018
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The longest serving Spokesperson of the Commission on Elections, James Jimenez is the Director of that institution's Education and Information Department. He used to be the Chairperson of the student COMELEC of the University of Santo Tomas. He is a firm believer in the ability of social media to empower voters, and in the capacity of empowered voters to shape a better future.