Not right time for Charter Change

Published January 15, 2021, 11:43 PM

by Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid


Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

For the nth time, our congressmen have again brought up the controversial issue of constitutional change. But is now the “right constitutional moment”?

Our 1987 Constitution is regarded as one of the most enduring constitutions in the world because for almost three decades, it has withstood every attempt to amend it. This, to some, appears unusual, as a constitution is not infallible or flawless.

In a lengthy analytical paper (Rethinking the Federation of the Philippines, 2020), constitutional scholar Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M, givesa convincing rationale for change. But, it must be done, he says, after going through an “inclusive and participatory process.” And since we are not quite ready for this change, he suggests steps and questions that we must ask:
1. Identifying so-called “pathologies” and inconsistencies such as those noted by Raul Pangalanan, a judge of the International Criminal Court who cites “built-in contradiction between the economic and the governance clauses – the Constitution’s passionately nationalist stand on socio-economic matters and its avowed protectionism against foreign interests which seem to project partiality for an ‘expanded state.’ Yet, in allocating governmental powers, a maze of check-and-balance provisions have been instituted to form a ‘shriveled’ state.” Thus, the Constitution established a schizophrenic state that seeks remedial action.

Why the distrust with initiatives to amend the charter? To many, it is seen as a means to extend terms of the incumbent president, as shown by these examples: Marcos’ declaration of martial law to justify change; FVRamos’ attempt to introduce revisions with help of “People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization & Action (PIRMA); J. Estrada through CONCORD in 2000; and G.M Arroyo in 2006, with support of J. de Venecia through “Sigaw ng Bayan.”

Conduct “diagnostic”sessions via barangay assembly apparatus; commission law schools to undertake consultations and come up with position papers and remedial action, and to make people aware of the significance of Feb. 2, Constitution Day – which is that it is a symbol of statehood.

Federalism may be the appropriate path as we need to address the “over-centralization of governance” and how it has sustained the culture of patronage that has compromised quality of political leadership.

Address “centralization by stealth” as shown in Article VII where “The President shall have control of all executive departments, bureaus, and offices.” The author compares this provision with that of South Korea where “power is vested in institutions and its representatives.” Thus it is shared by its president, the prime minister, and the chief of the Supreme Court.

Take countermeasures against domination of political dynasties, how to improve quality of local leadership by developing mindsets needed such as stewardship and continuity. GalingPook Foundation is cited as example that decentralization can produce good outcomes

Federalism is merely a unit in the spectrum of decentralization arrangements. It must not be seen as contentious, and that transition from unitary to federal should be gradual, that every new design meets the people’s needs, that it is a shared undertaking and a shared commitment to making the new system work.

Several concerns raised by Atty. Yusingco – counter measures against political dynasties and the “culture of patronage;” developing needed mindsets of public officials such as stewardship and a sense of continuity or future-orientation; inculcating deeper sense of loyalty and belonging to state; power-sharing, among others, are essential prerequisites in the creation of a favorable social and political environment for change. These issues support those raised by political scientist, Clarita Carlos who questions the limited focus on economic reforms, i.e., “restrictive economic” provisions on foreign ownership and land and businesses and ownership of mass media public utilities, foreign capital, etc. She suggests the critical need to focus on the creation of a favorable environment and therefore, to involve political scientists in conceptualizing the framework for constitutional change. She cites a survey of investors who noted that they are not as bothered by provisions such as the 60-40 ownership as they are with corruption and high cost of energy, concerns that are political in nature.

Furthermore, as some senators have stated, the current administration has only 16 months before election period. Thus, it may not seem prudent to make critical changes. While the purpose is merely to amend economic provisions, opening the gates for change may lead to further amendments. Too, at this time of pandemic, a period of crisis, we cannot afford to engage in other activities that may divert our full attention.

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