Stopping runaway ‘Cha-cha train’
To change or not to change the Constitution” was how the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines began its recent “Pastoral Guidelines for Discerning the Moral Dimensions of the Present-Day Moves for Charter Change.” It is a critical question that requires much thought. However, it seems that members of the House of Representatives have beforehand begged the question and now are driving a runaway “Cha-cha train” while most of us are just beginning to understand the enormity of the undertaking.
It is thus worthwhile to pause and reflect on the wisdom of amending or revising the Constitution, while considering the most appropriate manner to do so.
There is no denying that the Constitution is an imperfect document. The question I pose is this: Is this time the best time to do so?
When we are confronting challenges out of the ordinary?
When our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, particularly the Moro, have for generations cried for their grievances to be addressed?
When the levels of poverty touch almost one out of every two Filipino families or 46 percent nationwide and 52 percent in Mindanao, according to the 2017 SWS self-rated poverty survey? And when hunger is real for Filipino families in urban poor and rural areas, particularly for the 33 percent of families who consider themselves food-poor in 2017, not to mention that 1 out of every 6 Filipinos have experienced involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months?
When the Gini index of inequality has not moved for practically two decades, stuck in .44 in the inequality scale, meaning to say that we have not improved to make our society more equal and we are still as unequal as two decades ago?
And, finally, when our divisions are deep, and when civil political discourse has become deeply difficult?
Now is not the time to revise the Charter, and federalism is not the answer to the ills that beset our country. Not now. Take a leaf from the CBCP’s pastoral guidelines: “Amending the fundamental law of the land, so carefully crafted for the common good after years of dictatorship, requires widespread people’s participation and consultation, unity of vision, transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate.”
I wish to share a story that bothers me deeply. Participating at a forum on Charter change before some 200 delegates from urban poor associations throughout the National Capital Region and nearby provinces, I listened to the stories of people from places where the communities experienced poverty in the flesh, hunger at certain days, unemployment and despair. Thus, their urgent plea: “It is not another law or even a constitution that we need. What we need urgently is food on our table, a roof over our heads, work that is regular, access to healthcare, and the opportunity to study.”
The primary task of leaders is to keep hope alive. Our leaders need to show the way to address the urgent appeal of our people to rise from the ashes of poverty, to break the chains of inequality, to end hunger once and for all, to make medical care and education accessible and affordable for all. These are the clear priorities; there is no time, much less resources, to waste.
The last thing, moreover, that we can afford to surrender as a people is hope. And hope is not the expectation of a better day to come; it is the belief that a new day is possible because we strive to make it happen—though it may not always be in the same shape and form that we initially envisioned. There is no turning back, because often the journey is not only about ourselves but also about those whose lives we have touched or those whose lives have touched ours.
Moreover, with all the respect I am capable of, is this the time to touch the fundamental law of the land—when four out of every five members of the House of Representatives belong to political families or dynasties? when these dynasts inhabit almost 80 percent of our provinces? When there are at least 63 private armies in just three of the regions (Northern Luzon, Central Visayas and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) studied by the Ateneo School of Government? When that same study has identified that a main obstacle is not only so-called “Imperial Manila” but precisely the collusion between “Imperial Manila” and the political dynasties in the provinces, which create political-economic monopolies that become the engine of unequal and uneven growth, consigning the majority of our people to a state of stagnant underdevelopment?
Politics of exclusion
It is crystal-clear: The politics of exclusion is what makes inclusive economic development impossible. This then is the stand I take: Prepare the ground first, deal with the obstacles first, then we can discuss Charter change.
The designation of a consultative body on Charter change is welcome. However, what is given with the right hand is seemingly withdrawn by the left. The House leadership, while welcoming the 19 members of that body, has reminded us in language so clear that the body is merely consultative; that it is the House committees who have the drafts nearly ready; that the runaway Charter change “bullet train” is nearing its final destination—without much thought to the mistrust it generates and the lack of a level playing field to discuss and debate the process.
Our predicament is best described by using a sports analogy. It is like beginning to play a game, and adjusting or revealing the rules later. It is akin to playing a game blindfolded, or playing only to find out that the winner is the team with the lowest score. If this is not acceptable in sports, how can it be acceptable in the lofty task of crafting the fundamental law of the land, the constitution?
Ed Garcia is a framer of the 1987 Constitution.
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