What’s wrong with 1987 Constitution?

Published September 23, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Is it necessary to amend the 1987 Constitution?

Since it came into full force and effect on Feb. 11, 1987, there had been several attempts to revise or change the Constitution. Each time, however, it failed to succeed.

The first attempt was in 1997, through the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA) – a signature campaign that sought to change the form of government to parliamentary system and lift the term limits of elected officials, including the president.

Having been introduced at the tail-end of then President Fidel V. Ramos’s term, the move triggered massive protests on suspicion it was aimed at extending his term.

The Supreme Court eventually rejected it for lack of enabling law and describing it as defective.
Two years after, during the administration of then President Joseph Estrada, another Charter change was pushed by way of the Constitutional Correction for Development (Concord). It sought to lift restrictions on foreign ownership of businesses by allowing non-Filipinos to own lands, public utilities and media outfits. It was eventually abandoned following strong opposition from various sectors, led by the Catholic Church.

At least four attempts at Charter change were made during the term of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. These are through a Consultative Commission that pushed for a unicameral parliamentary form of government and liberalizing the economy, a people’s initiative called Sigaw ng Bayan (People’s Cry), a Constituent Assembly proposed by then House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr., and another Constituent Assembly introduced by then Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. to form a federal government.

The Sigaw ng Bayan was dismissed by the Supreme Court for failure to comply with the basic requirement of people’s initiative, while the three other bids failed to gain support.

Another attempt to tinker with the Constitution was made under the watch of former President Rodrigo Duterte. It pushed for a federal form of government, one of his campaign promises. It failed to make headway.

Now comes a fresh bid for Charter change under the present administration. The Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, chaired by Sen. Robinhood Padilla, is currently conducting consultative hearings on the proposal to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution to boost foreign direct investment (FDI).

Two distinguished personalities – former Senate president and now Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile and former Socioeconomic Planning secretary Solita Monsod – have given contrasting views on the issue.

Enrile told the Padilla panel that it is necessary to amend the 1987 Constitution “because it is a source of our problems as a nation and it retards our progress.”

“The Constitution actually favors only the rich. It allows them to invest as much as 60 percent in mining, agriculture, transportation, and so on. The rich make lots of money here but they bring the profits elsewhere,” he said. “We should have an investment policy that will protect not only the rich, but also the poor. We can control the foreigners but not the rich Filipinos who control our politics, the judiciary, the executive branch, and even the police and the military. While the present set-up works to their advantage, the nation suffers.”

Unlike Enrile, Monsod is opposed to Charter change. Amending the Constitution is “not likely to open any new doors to foreign direct investments because, for all intents and purposes, the doors are already open,” she said. Monsod also expressed fears the move will open the floodgates for “rent-seeking activities” as lobby groups will certainly come in to pitch amendments.

Will the current bid to amend the Constitution succeed or will it go the way of the previous attempts?
The Constitution is not flawless and certainly there are provisions that need to be amended to keep it attuned to the times. The problem is, Charter change has always been synonymous to perpetuation of political power, especially that of the sitting president.

Unless proponents come up with clean-cut objectives to gain public trust, skepticism will continue and any attempt to amend the Constitution is bound to fail.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente Mendoza once said in a media interview: “The reason the many attempts of Congress or groups to change the 1987 Constitution failed is not by reason of intrinsic merit. It is because the attempts were viewed as nothing but veiled attempts to extend the term of office of the President. That is the simple reason.”