Rule of thumb for law of the land
As the rule of the land, a constitution assures a society of continuity beyond the term of elected public officials and the system of government in place. Yet, to be an effective barometer of continuity, a constitution should be accommodating of some change. In setting out the principles of our society, it should avoid rigidity and favor flexibility. Flexibility will give succeeding generations breathing room to address the needs of our people in different times.
Past efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution during the Estrada, Ramos, Arroyo and (Benigno) Aquino administrations were easily branded as a means to prolong the rule of incumbents and to promote narrow interests. The same cannot be said of the present situation, as Philippine society faces a different and dynamic landscape.
The present situation is defined by four characteristics: the election of a seemingly disinterested president; inequality and noninclusive growth in the economy; demand for competition; and Asean economic integration. These characteristics require us to rethink the law of our land, including changing the form of government and adjusting long-inflexible economic provisions.
Although not certain to reform the centralized and clientelist nature of our political culture, a federal form of government can enhance our democracy. It could promote more transparent and accountable governance, as leadership is brought closer to the people.
Further decentralizing the power hitherto held by Manila could lead to more political and economic equality. The principle of subsidiarity could be the critical step toward the resolution of ethnic and class conflicts in Philippine society.
However, the nature of Philippine politics gives a double-edged character to a federal structure. The power of local elites could further entrench their dominance at the subnational levels. The localization of police power could bring warlordism to new heights. Moreover, the economically unequal nature of local units will be a stumbling block in the process. Nevertheless, the people’s political and economic empowerment is imperative. Empowered people at the local level can deal with problems and conflicts at any level, including arresting the power of entrenched elites.
There is room for adjustment on the economic provisions to improve flexibility and competitiveness. By inserting the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to some provisions in Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports), and Article XVI (General Provisions), Congress could abolish restrictions on foreign ownership in certain industries to attract investments and generate jobs.
By easing these restrictions, the Philippines will be better able to engage investors in long-term partnerships. Investment generation would provide both urban and rural communities much needed employment opportunities, instead of “jobless growth.” Moreover, relaxing the limits on foreign ownership would enable our country to maximize the benefits of Asean integration.
An amendment would also establish a more competitive environment, producing better services and prices for Filipino consumers and increasing the attractiveness of our talented labor force. Leveling the playing field of economic opportunity, protecting consumer rights and instilling industrial discipline could be achieved through bold policy reforms.
A clear political and economic agenda based on democratic interests is what differentiates the current effort from past efforts to institute constitutional change. While directly engaging the people is the greatest potential of a federal setup, relaxing the Constitution’s economic provisions mounts a springboard for competition and inclusive growth. The present initiative goes beyond political bickering for power. It aims to institute a more politically and economically inclusive Philippine society.
Dindo Manhit is president of Stratbase ADR Institute for Strategic and International Studies.
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