What’s wrong with the 1987 Constitution?
There are many aspects of the 1987 Constitution of which Filipinos can be proud — for instance, the entrenchment of social justice and human rights in Article XIII.
But even its most ardent defender, former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., agrees that our Constitution is not perfect. The reality is that pathologies in a constitution can emerge during its reign.
These pertain to provisions in the constitutional text itself that may have been designed with good intentions but have eventually become debilitating to the political system it purports to govern. Our Constitution is no exception.
Thus, it stands to reason that a public discourse on charter change should also involve identifying, and analyzing, what these pathologies are.
I am certain that members of the Consultative Committee on constitutional reform organized by President Duterte would have wanted to dedicate more time to diagnose pathologies in the 1987 Constitution. But they have been specifically tasked by the President to draft a federal constitution by June. The committee is therefore constrained to simultaneously review the Charter and write the appropriate revisions.
But even before the Consultative Committee commenced its work, the Duterte administration has relentlessly advertised the shift to a federal system as vital to the economic development of the regions. Essentially, the President and his team have opted to advocate their own brand of federalism instead of helping citizens have a deeper appreciation of constitutional reform.
Both chambers of Congress have also mobilized their respective committees responsible for constitutional amendment and revision. But their hearings have been dominated by debates determining the wisdom and necessity of federalizing the government.
Understandably, public discussions on Charter change have been overshadowed by appeals for finding a consensus on what sort of federal structure is well-suited for Filipinos. Comprehending constitutional reform has thus been unfairly framed to the public as simply the process of shifting to a federal form of government.
However, constitutional reform is essentially a reset button because the range of what aspects of our political system can be improved is wide open. Hence, Charter change is also an opportunity to address anomalies within the overall political framework.
As responsible citizens, we should deeply reflect on our Constitution while the Consultative Committee and Congress fulfill their respective mandates. We must ask ourselves the questions that the Senate committee on constitutional amendments asked its resource persons: “1) Is there a need to amend or revise the Constitution? Why or why not? 2) If so, what parts of the Constitution should be amended or revised? Why?”
And to make the constitutional review process truly robust, we should discuss our answers with family and friends, in our school organizations, in our work, and even in our place of worship.
The reality is that only a thoughtful and participatory conversation will bring Filipinos to a level of consciousness where they can properly decide whether to proceed with this drastic change or not. And Charter change should not proceed at all without Filipinos fully on board.
In sum, the 1987 Constitution is the utmost symbol of Philippine democracy. A nation’s relationship to its Charter plays a huge part in its evolution as a democratic republican state. And a country that genuinely values its constitution both as a foundational document and as an existential guide to political life will be at a high stage of democratic maturity.
The Consultative Committee may finish its draft as scheduled, but this does not automatically mean that constitutional change will proceed this year. Even with the cooperation of both chambers of Congress, constitutional hurdles may delay the process, if not halt it altogether.
Nevertheless, a thorough public discourse on how to proceed with Charter change still benefits Philippine constitutional democracy because it will leave more Filipinos with a deeper appreciation of the 1987 Constitution.
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Lawyer Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo School of Government and a lecturer at the School of Law and Governance of the University of Asia and the Pacific.
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