Duterte's ChaCha Committee is Accountable to the Public

By Joy Aceron*

It is reported that one of the members of the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution created by President Rodrigo Duterte thinks that the Committee does not owe the public a copy of their proposed Constitution. According to him, this is because the Committee only reports to the President and because he thinks the public is not capable of studying Constitutional Change proposal. Confidently, he argued that unlike him, the public did not study the Constitution and laws for years.

Let me say outright that this member of Duterte's ChaCha Committee is wrong.

Since the Committee got formed and until this week when they announced their complete proposal, Duterte's ChaCha Committee has been conducting press conferences and media guestings. Why are they doing this if they think they do not owe the public information about their proposals? Were those just for exposure?

Duterte's ChaCha Committee also did public consultations. They went all over the country to ask the public, specifically key stakeholders, for feedback and inputs on their proposed changes in the Constitution. We got feedback from the ground of how superficial this was and how it was impossible for stakeholders to provide substantive inputs that could be considered given the short notice of the information and the lack of relevant materials provided prior to the consultations.

Public resources were spent for these consultations. If the Committee does not respect people's capacity to discuss this issue, why were they even spending for consultations to ask the people about it? Was that just for show?

The Duterte ChaCha Committee is hardly representative. Out of the 22 members, there are only two women. The rest are men, who are mostly lawyers from San Beda College. There is no representation from the basic sectors and social movements, not even the youth sector. This makes it more imperative for their proposals to be subjected to public scrutiny.

Let me share a piece of knowledge to the Committee and address them directly.

Just like how you studied lots of law books for years, this is also based on years of studies and practice, so I suppose you can consider it.

You are informing and consulting the public because you are not only accountable to your boss, the President, but to the people as well.

The moment you accepted a public post, even if it's just a member of a consultative committee that will advise the President, you become accountable to the people as well. You got paid using people's money. And even if you don't, the work you do tackles an issue that concerns the people.

To use a language you understand, let me refer to the Constitution that still governs this country, including your Committee. The 1987 Constitution guarantees the right of the people to information on matters of public concern.

Article III: Bill of Right, SECTION 7:
"The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized. Access to official records, and to documents, and papers pertaining to official acts, transactions, or decisions, as well as to government research data used as basis for policy development, shall be afforded the citizen, subject to such limitations as may be provided by law."

Let me explain it using the language of my field. What you know is called 'upward accountability,' being accountable to your appointing authority. That has been proven insufficient, so there is such a thing as 'downward accountability,' being accountable to the public/ people. This is an advancement in the theory and practice of governance.

Unlike you, I think even without you studying and practicing governance and accountability for years, you can understand this. Not because it is easy to understand, but because I expect you to care for matters that should be important to you, just as how people care about Charter Change.

To the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution: Make your proposal completely public and be ready to be accountable for it!

*Joy Aceron is Convenor-Director of Government Watch (www.g-watch.org) and a Research Fellow of Accountability Research Center based in School of International Service of American University in Washington, DC (www.accountabilityresearch.org).