The Constitution in these pandemic times

Published August 14, 2020, 10:24 PM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


This is a continuation of my piece on the assessment of the Constitution by UP Political Science professors, the Center for Integrative Studies (CIDS) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA).

What was presented were qualitative assessments which determined the impact of the pandemic on the performance of the Constitution. It suggests recommendations on how to keep the Charter working during the emergency period and identified trends and warning signals as well.

Their initial findings were that although there was compliance with some of the substantive goals – democracy, democratization, social justice, human rights, gender equality, peace and conflict resolution, and economic development – such compliance was limited. In general, compliance was “thin,” meaning, it was primarily on technical requirements like enacting laws, e.g., emergency laws like the Bayanihan Act on allocating loans and social amelioration programs or the Inter-Agency Task Force to address Covid-19.

Likewise, the assessment tended to “magnify vulnerabilities” and “highlighted weak implementation.” Participation of beneficiaries was limited as much of decision-making was top-down. Whatever limited progress in decentralization and separation of powers between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary existed was compromised with the immense powers given to the Executive.

But the lack of proactive and preventive response led to the country’s having the biggest number of people infected with the coronavirus in the Southeast Asian region. And with 75 percent of economic activities put to a stop by the lockdown, our Gross Domestic Product shrank by 16.5 percent. Expectedly, its negative impact has been on the poor who were further marginalized.

And yet, the heart of the Constitution – social justice and human rights and its provisions, mandate that the state protect the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable – agrarian reform beneficiaries, subsistence fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, the elderly, women, illiterates, and paupers. From the Preamble and the transcendental goals of love, equality, truth, freedom, and building a humane and just society, government and non-state institutions are directed to promote the common good. Thus, what was expected to prevail during this crisis period was the emergence of such virtues and ethical standards such as sharing empathy, cooperation, transparency and accountability, and truth at all levels of governance.

The Charter states rights to health through an “integrated and comprehensive approach to health and manpower development” and priority given to science and technology transfer but as former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit noted, the country has not invested in the healthcare system for the past decades.

The Charter suggests setting up responsive and decentralized alternative structures, such as cooperatives, independent people’s organizations, and nonformal and informal structures for learning and direct democracy. Policies and structures have been established but they require further upgrading to make them truly responsive and cost-effective. They have yet to demonstrate their full capacity to develop the human resources required for the envisioned global economy, as well as the mindset and character needed to build a sustainable nation.

Political dynasties and oligarchic control of resources have widened social and income gaps. Legislation and advocacy that would address these concerns will require a strong political will and participation of an informed citizenry. But again, freedom of information is gradually being eroded The number of petitions filed before the Supreme Court against the Anti-Terror Act (ATA) demonstrates the increasing politicization of a people who have grown weary over a weak leadership that is unable to respond to the authentic needs of the country. The ATA which is unconstitutional as it threatens free speech. The “creeping militarization of institutions characterizes this regime despite the constitutional provision on the primacy of civilian authority over the military.

Our sovereignty over our waters, notably, the West Philippine Sea, continues to be threatened by China’s incursions. But we are not giving up, our confidence backed by our victory in the arbitral ruling. The way to the future is multilateralism. But since this is not getting anywhere, this will require priority advocacy in a more enlightened political environment.

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