The Federal Constitution (2)

By Florangel Rosario Braid

Let me start by saying that although I find many good features of the newly drafted federal charter, I will state as I have done before that I do not support constitutional change, which means that I am against the proposal for a shift to the federal structure and changing the constitution at this time. But I would not want this present draft discarded since I think the several amendments and innovations could be presented when the time is ripe for constitutional change.

My intent in the last piece and this one, is to show some differences between the present 1987 Constitution and the draft federal charter. I believe in the trustworthiness of some members of the Consultative Committee; thus, their honest efforts must be recognized. Their initiatives on strengthening political parties and defining criteria for qualifications for running for public office through an anti-political dynasty provision, are praiseworthy. The former through the so-called Democracy Fund would assist the funding campaign of talented youth who aspire to run for political office. The provision likewise discourages the proliferation of political butterflies through penalties imposed on turncoats.

Adding two important commissions to the three independent commissions – Human Rights and Competition — is noteworthy. In the light of the many controversies on human rights today, the only way to address the problem is to make the commission independent. The same is true with issues regarding the need to ensure a level playing field among business corporations. Retaining prohibitions against monopolies and unfair competition, encouragement of operation of enterprises whose capital is owned by Filipinos.

Many of our countrymen will be pleased with the additional phrase on sovereignty rights in ownership of our national territory — “pursuant to judgments of competent international courts or tribunals” — which implies our adherence to multilateral agreements. This should strengthen our claim to the West Philippine Sea.

I have seen the positive accomplishments in countries having a Constitutional Court and am thus happy to see this as a proposal for our judicial system. This would reduce the backlog of the existing Supreme Court which could then leave issues involving constitutional disputes to this new Court.

The Article on Education retains the features of the 1987 Constitution – giving it the highest budgetary priority, focus on an integrated system of formal, non-formal, and indigenous learning, values, critical and creative thinking.
At this time when we are confronted with the challenges of the environment and information and new technologies, I wished the drafters would have come up with innovative provisions that would enable policy and program planners to address these issues more aggressively. Many countries today have constitutionalized the rights of Nature in their charters – rights of rivers, trees, etc., while we are still talking about how to make ourselves more responsible towards Nature.

When we drafted the 1987 Constitution, we thought of a provision that would direct us to policies on planning future information technologies but many of our members thought that it was too early to do that. Then a few years later, we witnessed the coming of Internet and other new technologies. Today, we are faced with artificial intelligence, robotics, data analytics, etc. that would alter every aspect of our everyday life.

On Social Justice, which is the “heart” of the 1987 Constitution, I wish the drafters would have expanded the phrase “create opportunites based on initiative and self-reliance.” They have retained provisions on protection of labor, encouragement of cooperatives, rights of farmers and fisherfolk, agrarian and urban land reform and housing, and rights of women, elderly, indigenous peoples, and the disadvantaged. Which is commendable.

When I say expansion on creating opportunities based on initiative and self-reliance. I mean, putting across a social and economic philosophy that ensures the full emergence of initiative and sustainable self-reliance. This would mean stating a philosophy of government which is able to pursue the establishment of an environment that truly provides a level playing field. For over several decades, or even centuries now, the economic disparities have widened. Wealth and power had remained at the center and had not diffused to the majority of our people. We need a strong government, strong regulatory systems that would encourage wide and fair competition. This means providing a limited protection in terms of dole-outs or “trickle-down” assistance that stifles initiatives. The safety nets would be in the form of rules, policies, and regulations that would promote equitable participation of the poor and marginalized, in various areas of decision-making.

Several analysts have expressed fears about the federal charter. Some say it may be a “Trojan horse” and that it may be a smokescreen for a Duterte reelection. Others say it is a portent of “creeping authoritarianism.” Some good provisions such as the “anti-political dynasty” may not be adopted by Congress which has the final say. I do entertain similar reservations.

However, the draft charter has given us an opening for further debate on the Constitution which, as we know, has low public awareness.

My e-mail, [email protected]