It’s now time to correct the constitution

Published June 5, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Manila Bulletin

What we have learned from the 1971 Constitutional Convention and how we can apply it today

By Orion Perez Dumdum

As we celebrate 40 years since the Constitutional Convention of 1971 was convened after their election in November of 1970, we remember the product of this Constitutional Convention—the unamended 1973 Constitution—as being the best constitution the Philippines was supposed to have, were it not for its pre-emption by Martial Law in September of 1972. As all serious students of history would have noticed, Martial Law and the dissolution of the legislature that followed shortly thereafter had made it impossible to set up the form of government that the 1973 Constitution prescribed—a parliamentary system.

The Constitutional Convention of 1971 was meant to fix issues of governance that had plagued the Philippines previously as a result of the 1935 Constitution’s use of a modified US-inspired Presidential System based on direct national voting of the president, unlike how the US votes its Presidents and Vice Presidents in-tandem through the use of an electoral college.

As early as 1949, Claro M. Recto had complained about the Presidential System that the constitutional convention he was a member of, which drafted the 1935 Constitution had set up, and had proposed that the Philippines shift over to a parliamentary system, which he felt would have been much more meritocratic and more collegial and party-based.

LOOKING BACK, MOVING FORWARD This week’s Philippine Panorama revisits the 1971 Constitutional Convention 50 years since it was held. On the cover (top): Former President Diosdado Macapagal heading the convention at Quezon City Hall in 1971; and (bottom): Former President Ferdinand Marcos meeting with the top brass of the military in 1972. Photos: National Library of the Philippines. Cover design: Jules Vivas

It was only right that the Constitutional Convention of 1971 sought to put in place a better and much more robust system of government that has been proven by world renowned political scientists, from the late Juan Linz to the late Fred Riggs and many others, including the bestselling Dr. Francis Fukuyama, to be superior to the presidential system. Contrary to many who claim that Marcos changed the 1935 Constitution for his own ends, there was quite a strong clamor among critics of President Marcos to get the 1935 Constitution changed because it was too American-influenced for their tastes.

The Constitutional Convention of 1971 was meant to fix issues of governance that had plagued the Philippines previously as a result of the 1935 Constitution’s use of a modified US-inspired Presidential System.

It is sad, however, that numerous amendments had been set up prior to the end of Martial Law that eventually changed the form of government from a Parliamentary System as originally-intended by the 1971 Constitutional Convention into a “French-style” semi-presidential system. Others would claim that the resulting system of the 1981 Amendments became what was essentially a South Korean or Peru-style presidential system in which a leading technocrat was chosen by the President to act as Prime Minister, and in so doing, become a “glorified executive secretary” rather than being an active decision-maker as head of government.

NEW SYSTEM Front page of the Manila Bulletin in Jan 1973, covering the implementation of the 1973 Constitution

That said, the modifications to the 1973 Constitution set up by the 1981 amendments still created a much better system than the 1935 Constitution. More important, it was way superior to the error-filled 1987 Constitution that was hurriedly drafted by the 1986 Constitutional Commission.

In this year 2021, we look back at the fact that so much new research on economics and governance has yielded a clamor among so many young Filipinos for so many reforms, including (1) the removal of anti-foreign direct investment restrictions in the Constitution, which have prevented job-creating international companies from coming to the Philippines to create employment opportunities for millions of Filipinos, (2) the adoption of federalism, aimed at spreading out economic opportunities to the regions and decongesting the overcrowded National Capital Region, and lastly (3) the shift toward the much more efficient, more stable, more cost-effective, more meritocratic, more party-centric, and less personality-oriented Parliamentary form of government.

In this series, we feature the voices of three constitutional reform advocates each representing Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to talk about the constitutional changes they wish to see in order to have a better Philippines. Let us sincerely listen to what Karl Aguilar (“Changing Economic Policies in Our Constitution”), Tara Polo (“More Opportunities Mean Better Opportunities”), and Zainal Limpao (“Our Systems Must Change”) each have to say based on their own experiences and their desires for a better future for themselves and their families.

Orion Perez Dumdum is a Singapore-based OFW who has travelled around extensively for work and observed many different countries and the systems they employ. He is also the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement, an advocacy movement for Constitutional Reform and Rectification for Economic Competitiveness and Transformation founded in late 2010.