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With Due Respect

Cha-cha stand of the three retired CJs

The three retired chief justices of our country have divergent positions on Charter change (Cha-cha). The youngest, CJ Reynato S. Puno, is definitely for Cha-cha and for federalism. In fact, he heads the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) formed by President Duterte to review the Constitution.

Con-Com to Pres to Congress. Since the chosen Cha-cha mode is the constituent assembly, it is Congress that will finally determine the exact nature and extent of the revisions. Consequently, the Con-Com’s studies and conclusions will only be recommendatory to the President, who is expected to pass them on to Congress.

Nonetheless, if adopted and accepted by the President, these recommendations will be very persuasive on the legislature. True, the President, technically and constitutionally, does not have any formal part in the revision process. But politically and factually, his word is almost law for his congressional allies who control the supermajority in both chambers of Congress.

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Tasked to finalize its recommendations prior to the President’s State of the Nation Address scheduled on July 23, the Con-Com took its mission seriously and meets daily to discuss and vote on proposed changes.

Many critics have expressed apprehensions that the Con-Com will devalue or water down the Bill of Rights provided under Art. III of our Constitution. I believe this fear is more imagined than real. CJ Puno is known for his libertarian ideas and ideals. I think he, and many other Con-Com members who I know personally, will never allow any downgrading of our existing constitutional rights. If at all, they would, in my humble opinion, even strengthen the Bill of Rights.

Passionately contra. The oldest, CJ Hilario G. Davide Jr., is passionately contra any constitutional change at this time, saying “the 1987 Constitution … which was drafted by the 1986 Constitutional Commission,” of which he was an active member, “is the best Constitution of the world.”

He describes federalism as “a lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, and a leap to hell … untried and untested in our country and by our people … [It] would be a foreign invader or a stranger that would come not on its own conquering will and with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

Instead of federalism, he argues that “effective decentralization or power sharing between the central government and the political subdivisions [is] already assured and mandated—not denied or impeded—by the Constitution.” He encourages the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law as the model to decentralize under the present Charter.

Constitutional updating needed. On my part, I conceded in past columns, especially on Feb. 4 (“Need for clarity, precision in federalism”), that the 1987 Constitution is good, but is far from perfect. In view of the current needs and aspirations of our people, and the current technological, economic and political realities of the world, it has to be updated.

But I also said that I am not convinced we need federalism. Nonetheless, I am open and willing to listen, provided the specifics are laid out clearly and precisely, given that federalism is a generic concept with many faces, types and forms.

For this reason, I have taken it upon myself to monitor the pronouncements of the Con-Com, the ruling PDP-Laban party, and Congress. In this regard, I note the Con-Com’s recent vote to regulate political dynasties, barring everyone within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity, whether legitimate or illegitimate, half or full blood, from running simultaneously for more than one national and one regional or local position.

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I have yet to hear what the PDP-Laban, and more important, what Congress has to say about this. If we go by the present composition of the legislature, which is dominated, according to a study of the Ateneo de Manila School of Governance, to the extent of 75 percent of its members belonging to dynastic families, there is little chance of this long-awaited reform to be constitutionalized.

But let us wait and see. Our legislators may yet encounter their Damascus-road experience and surprise us.

Comments to chiefjusticepanganiban@ hotmail.com

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TAGS: artemio v. panganiban, charter change, Consultative Committee, federalism, Reynato Puno, With Due Respect
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