Getting ready for Con-ass
If the recent preelection surveys, the genuine ones, are to be believed, then the convening this year of a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to change the 1987 Constitution seems more likely to happen.
The call for the convening of a Con-ass will probably be made at the State of the Nation Address in July. Hence, Filipinos must now start preparing for the possibility of going through a constitutional revision process very soon, bearing in mind that the Constitution prescribes the modes of revision but leaves it to the drafting body to devise the mechanics of the writing process itself.
In this regard, it must be emphasized that railroading the process will only result in a new Constitution having no legitimacy at all. Hence, Filipinos cannot simply leave constitutional reform in the hands of politicians.
The infamous Resolution of Both Houses No. 15 was a warning that cannot be ignored. Dynastic politicians will not hesitate to hijack Charter change to perpetuate themselves in their positions of power. And the only way to keep this mob in check is for Filipinos to be actively and intelligently engaged every step of the way.
Given that the Con-ass is comprised entirely of politicians, transparency is vital in determining the rules and procedures of the drafting process. It is imperative that these be properly published beforehand and be made easily accessible to the public.
Moreover, all proceedings by the drafting body must be open to the public. The media must have full access to records and papers related to the drafting process.
The key point here is that there should be complete and absolute transparency from day one.
The participation of the people in drafting the new Constitution is critical as well. Again, the depth of involvement of the community in the writing process directly impacts the legitimacy of the end product.
Therefore, public consultations must be conducted, preferably giving priority to the farthest areas of the country. Moreover, there must be mechanisms that will allow the public to submit proposals to the drafting body and to be heard during sessions.
The drafting body must likewise put up a website where updates on the working draft and the writing process are posted, allowing the public to comment on the progress of the draft itself in matters of substance and style.
Ostensibly, the drafting body is expected to engage the assistance of Constitution-drafting experts. Definitely, the new Constitution should not have an utterly ridiculous provision like Article XVI, Section 10 of the 1987 Constitution: “The State shall provide the policy environment for the full development of Filipino capability and the emergence of communication structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation and the balanced flow of information into, out of, and across the country, in accordance with a policy that respects the freedom of speech and of the press.”
After the final version of a working draft is determined by the drafting body, there should be a sufficient period allotted for public debates. This time will be very important, because this is where the draft of the new Constitution will emerge.
And when the final draft is done, there should also be an appropriate amount of time to allow the public to reflect on it. The peoples’ minds must be clear when they decide to enact or to reject the new Constitution in a plebiscite.
It cannot be emphasized enough that we want the new Constitution to be more reflective of the times and responsive to the needs of all Filipinos. Therefore, we must be ready to be actively and directly involved in the drafting process. Indeed, we should already be ardently preparing intelligent and coherent proposals as to what the new Constitution should contain.
We simply cannot allow a repeat of what happened in the 1971 Constitutional Convention and the 1986 Constitutional Commission. We do not want to wake up and deal with another constitutional dictator, and even more political dynasties.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M., is a law lecturer, legislative and policy consultant, and nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.
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