The antidynasty campaignBy Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas S. J.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
People get the government they deserve. What people deserve is expressed through their preferences in an election. We have been having elections since 1987 when the antidynasty provision in the Constitution first appeared, and the people have chosen, administration after administration, their preferences, dynasties and all.
Indeed, there is an antidynasty provision in the Constitution. It was first proposed in the Committee on Local Governments but was rejected there. It was revived during the debates on the Declaration of Principles and State Policies. In those debates, the choice was between passing on the responsibility for laying down an antidynasty provision to Congress and leaving the choice to the people in an election. The Constitutional Commission passed on the responsibility to Congress.
But why did not the Constitutional Commission itself formulate a meaningful antidynasty law? I can recall two reasons. First, it was thought that leaving the choice of government officials to the voters rather than limiting the choice of voters would be the more democratic option. Second, nobody proposed what an antidynasty provision with teeth would look like. Hence, the anti-dynasty provision was buried in the Article of the Constitution whose provisions are generally non-self-executing, thereby leaving it to Congress to do the dirty job. “The State shall prohibit political dynasties … as may be provided by law.”
The power to do something about political dynasties has been in the hands of a series of Congresses since 1987. Nothing significant on the subject has taken place. Why is this so? Aside from selfish motives that might indeed exist, what has prevailed to this day is the reasoning that leaving the choice of government officials to the voters rather than limiting the choice of voters would be the more democratic option.
If Congress were to provide for an antidynasty law, what would it look like? One draft which has been languishing in Congress reads something like this: “Political Dynasty shall exist when a person who is the spouse of an incumbent elective official or relative within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity of an incumbent elective official holds or runs for an elective office simultaneously with the incumbent elective official within the same province or occupies the same office immediately after the term of office of the incumbent elective official. It shall also be deemed to exist where two (2) or more persons who are spouses or are related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity run simultaneously for elective public office within the same province, even if neither is so related to an incumbent elective official.”
Unfortunately the people who would be asked to approve a bill like this would themselves come under the definition of dynasts. Look at the list of candidates running for office now.
If Congress, either as a legislative body or as a constituent body, cannot propose a meaningful antidynasty amendment, can a Constitutional Convention do it? There is no clamor for a Constitutional Convention for this or for anything, for that matter.
Realizing perhaps that the desired amendment will not come from Congress or even from a Constitutional Convention, the antidynasty proponents now are asking for amendment directly passed by the people through initiative and referendum. What are the chances of success?
First of all, a definition of what a political dynasty means has to be formulated. Who will do it? The Constitution does not say who will do that for the purpose of the initiative. The conclusion is that anybody can do it. Can the campaigners against political dynasty succeed in agreeing on one formula to be presented to the people? Not very likely.
Let us suppose, however, that the usually independent great minds can agree on a formula, what else is needed.?First, lest we forget, Congress must first pass a law authorizing constitutional amendment by initiative and referendum. In 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that the current Initiative and Referendum Law does not authorize constitutional amendments yet. A contrary Court majority opinion in 2006 was an obiter dictum, that is, not a binding rule.
Second, if and when constitutional amendment by initiative and referendum is finally passed, the approved common formula must be submitted to the people in a referendum. What percentage of the votes cast is needed to bring the matter to a referendum? “Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.”
Finally, if there is a successful call for a referendum, what percentage of the voting population is needed to ratify the proposal? The Constitution says “a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite.”
No amendment attempt has succeeded yet in this system. Hence, to the antidynasty campaigners I say, “naught have I for your comfort, yea, naught for your desire, save that the sky grows darker yet and the sea rises higher.” That is, unless voter education succeeds first.
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