Some political observers seem to believe President Rodrigo Duterte missed the boat when he failed to mention in his fourth State of the Nation Address the subject of constitutional change, specifically the proposed shift from our unitary system to a federal system of government. I thought this was one of the few things he finally got right after three years—an apparent decision not to meddle in any proposed constitutional change, assuming there will be constitutional change.

Under the Constitution, as spelled out in Article XVII, “Amendments or Revisions,” the President has no right, duty, or privilege to propose any amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution.  Article XVII enumerates those that may propose constitutional amendments or revisions, and excludes the President from the enumeration.  Black’s Law Dictionary says, lnclusio unius est exclusio alterius—the inclusion of one is the exclusion of another.

The right, or duty, or privilege to propose constitutional amendments or revisions belongs to the Congress by a vote of three-fourths of all its members; or to a constitutional convention called either by two-thirds of Congress, or by a majority of all its members with the people’s consent; or to 12 percent of the electorate, with at least 3 percent of the voters representing each congressional district.

Since DU30 exercises even the power to choose the Speaker of the House of Representatives, people expected him to tell Congress what to do to hasten the proposed shift to a federal government. Distinguished legal and judicial luminaries like former Chief Justice Reynato Puno have allowed themselves to be drafted into an executive committee to study ways and means of fast-tracking such a shift. Not one of these luminaries has expressed any reservation about the legality of their own appointments.

It seems easier to insist the earth is flat than to argue against self-interest. Thus, from this supposedly learned circle comes the serious disappointment over DU30’s failure to use his SONA to talk about the proposed federalization of our government. What, in fact, prompted him not to say anything about this grand idea on the very day his “true believers” expected him to make a major statement on it?

For three long years, I had repeatedly pointed out, ad nauseam, that the Constitution does not allow the President to get involved in proposing any constitutional amendment or revision. This criticism was totally ignored. Not once did Malacañang or any of its legal luminaries suggest I was misreading the Constitution and had to go back to its basic text.  And now this!

Most Filipinos have no basic understanding of “federalism” except that DU30 reportedly wants it, and “what DU30 wants, DU30 gets.”  I have described it as a “contradiction” in terms, because there are no separate or autonomous regions in our country to “federalize”; we are already an integrated unitary state, and the proposal to segregate the whole archipelago into several regions and put them back together again is a hilarious way of “federalization.”  The more appropriate term is “balkanization.”

In 2000, on my second term as a senator, I proposed calling a constitutional convention to consider establishing a federal union, based on our present territory as defined in the Treaty of Paris of 1898, plus the State of Sabah, which we claim as our own, and the islands we claim to have discovered in the Spratlys, before they were fortified and militarized by Beijing. But Sabah has remained firmly under Malaysian control, and China has acquired possession of the disputed islands and marine features, which DU30 has conceded to Beijing.

Is it possible that DU30 never had a serious understanding of, and real commitment to, “federalism”?  On his first year in office, DU30 named a Protestant pastor (Ernesto Abella) as his spokesman, and in one of his more inspired moments, this pastor declared that out of five confusing and provocative statements the President made, only two should be taken seriously by the public, the rest should be taken with a grain of salt.

This pronouncement was never revised nor withdrawn, and to this day DU30 continues to issue statements that shock or scandalize and are later explained away as pure “jokes” or “hyperbole.”  Is it possible “federalism” was simply one of DU30’s long-running jokes, intended to keep the public’s attention away from the drug killings, the degeneration of our public morality and the idiotization of our politics?

A recent theory casts DU30 in the company of populist leaders who have captured political power by appealing to their subjects’ basest qualities, especially those at the lowest rung of the social ladder. Unable to see the real meaning and value of “democracy” as an ideal, many have opted to follow a strongman who was able to project his personal charisma and authority by falsifying moral, social and political doctrines, and lording over institutions.

By talking nonstop about revolutionary government, martial law, and federalism, while making himself China’s leading lackey in the region, DU30 has kept himself afloat as a populist leader. But he must have realized it’s all a con-game, and that it can’t go on forever.