The people are the source of constitutional reforms

Published January 28, 2021, 12:21 AM

by Senator Francis Tolentino


Senator Francis N. Tolentino

“We, the sovereign Filipino people” – the Preamble of 1987 Constitution starts with these five words. As a vision for the succeeding provisions of the fundamental law of our land, this phrase “we, the sovereign Filipino people” does not only put forth the direction for our Constitution; it also affirms our identity as a citizenry.

Historically, we have had six Constitutions since the Proclamation of Independence on 12 June 1898. We continue to flourish as a nation with a strong tradition of constitutional government. The Malolos Constitution, the first Philippine Constitution, was, in fact, the first republican constitution in Asia.

This morning, we convene in the Senate as a committee to hear all the resolutions filed for Charter Change, albeit virtually and during a time of public health crisis, to exercise our constitutionally mandated power and discuss resolutions on possibly introducing amendments to our Constitution. The resulting document, if ever, after the conclusion of this exacting process, will determine how the powers of sovereignty will be exercised.

But we have to be cognizant of the fact that the Constitution is not just a body of rules and maxims. Every principle, section, and article in the Constitution is animated by the sovereign will of the people. This principle is perfectly resonated in our Constitution’s Declaration of Principles — “sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” That sovereignty resides in the Filipino people is best exemplified by providing the people a system of initiatives and referendums in the Constitution, whereby they can share in some aspects of direct democracy.

It is likewise through the sovereign will of the people that Congress is given the authority to propose any amendment or revision of 1987 Constitution. The powers of government have been delegated to the members of Congress by the people, who possess original sovereignty.  The Congress is therefore the nexus between the Filipino people and their aspirations and, I hope we will not fail them.

We cannot fail the 109 million Filipinos seeking economic progress, especially in this time of global health crisis. Naiiwan na po tayo, hindi lamang sa buong Asya kundi sa ASEAN. It is in this light that this representation, together with Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, seeks to introduce amendments which will ensure that our economy is free from external control yet responsive to the current needs of the people and adaptive to the global landscape.

The Constitution is not about the current administration, a specific group or class, or personal political agenda. It is about the 109 million Filipinos in whom sovereignty resides. It is about the Filipino people whose democratic values and ideals we should represent and take into account. In amending the Constitution, we have to be mindful of the inalienability of the Filipinos’ sovereignty lest we fail to fulfill our sworn duty to the Filipino citizenry.

It is a great responsibility indeed just to convene this committee hearing to tackle proposed changes which would bring systemic safeguards to the Constitution. However, amending the Constitution is not a task that should be taken lightly. We all know that. It is the most, challenging and solemn duty of Congress. We will be crafting not just a document containing the fundamental law, but a document that embodies the rule of law and represents the sovereign will of the Filipino people.

When the 1987 Constitution provided that any amendment to or revision of the Constitution proposed by Congress or a constitutional convention “shall be valid only when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite,” it is a recognition that it is the people who will ultimately decide the fate of our Constitution. And it is a humbling reminder to all of us in Congress, and to the resource persons whom I respect that when we exercise our constitutional power to sit as an assembly, if ever that happens, to propose amendments to or revisions of the Constitution, we only do so because the power has been delegated to us by the Filipino people.

Allow me to quote  in the United States several passages in the speech of James Wilson to the Pennsylvania Convention centuries ago in 1787: “The truth is, that, in our governments, the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power remains in the people. As our constitutions are superior to our legislatures; so the people are superior to our constitutions. Indeed the superiority, in this last instance, is much greater; for the people possess, over our constitutions, control in act, as well as in right. The consequence is, that the people may change the constitutions whenever and however they please. This is a right, of which no positive institution can ever deprive them.”

True power resides in the people, and the people are the fountain of all power.