Should we amend the Constitution?
Amending the 1987 Constitution is the most important and most contentious change this country will face under President Duterte. It needs to be done with the utmost care.
The Constitution is reactionary in that it was developed in reaction to the excesses of the Marcos regime, and at a time when redeveloping a national identity overrode a need for balance. Consequently, it ended up far too detailed when general policy and ideology are what a charter calls for.
Should we amend the Constitution? Definitely, yes. I’d much prefer that a constitutional convention (Con-con) be formed. Like most of us, I don’t trust a constitutional assembly (Con-ass) to be entirely independent of self-interest. The six-year term that congressmen have said they want is an early indication of why using a Con-ass to amend the Constitution puts what’s best for the rest of us at risk. Mr. Duterte’s appointment of a consultative committee led by the highly esteemed former chief justice Reynato Puno with diverse, and it seems independent, members is a reasonable compromise, and should be hugely influential on the Con-ass outcome. Change in the Constitution is so important, so fundamental, to the nation that any amendment must be done with cold reason, dispassion, and detachment. The cost and time to do it are irrelevant. Doing it the right way must dominate.
A Con-ass (if that still continues, as I suspect it will) should be required to accept the committee’s recommendations, unless there is very strong reason, supported by independent surveys (which should be done on key issues such as the form of government, and by trustworthy survey firms SWS and Pulse Asia) that show the people want something different. A constitution is of the people, by the people, and for the people. This must never be forgotten. It is not of politicians, by politicians, and for politicians.
The first issue to be decided is: Should a Con-ass comprise the two chambers voting separately, or unified with the Senate swamped by the House of Representatives? Any sensible, thinking person knows it’s meant to be separate. It was the intent of the Constitutional Commission of 1986, but sloppy editing didn’t pick up the last-minute shift to a two-chamber Congress. Voting as a single body swamps the Senate; it becomes irrelevant. The Constitution doesn’t consider the Senate irrelevant.
It shouldn’t even be an issue, not because of the obviousness of this fact, but because it highlights why the Constitution should be reviewed by a Con-con (although knowing how things work in this country, electing truly independent representatives would be a major task in itself), not a Con-ass. You need people truly independent and uninvolved in the main issues to be decided upon. How, for instance, can you ask politicians to ban dynasties when they come from one? Assuming you do want to ban dynasties, that’s something that needs deeper reflection. We don’t ban them in business, and many (not all) of those businesses thrive.
The matter of political dynasties may just need certain limitations. For instance, there should be only two people from an extended family in a political position at one time—one national, one local. That’s exactly the sort of thing a Con-con could explore. A Con-ass probably won’t even try, as Congress’ 31 years of not acting on the constitutional dictate to ban dynasties shows. We may not want longer terms, but politicians want long ones—doubtless even for life, if they could get away with it. And so on. The conflict of interest is just too high.
A new constitution must also consider the future. Some of the failings of the 1987 Constitution are that the world has changed and the terms set then are no longer applicable. The restriction on foreign investments is a prime case. A constitution should set the general—and I stress general—policies, philosophy, and ideology of a people. Specifics should be set by law, a law that can change as circumstances change. A constitution is the lifeblood of a nation. You don’t change a constitution to suit a particular moment; you do it to set the foundation of a society—for a hundred years.
Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com. Email: [email protected]
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