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Commentary

Mabini and Charter change

As the country commemorates Constitution Day today, Feb. 2, I urge Filipinos to pay special tribute to Apolinario Mabini, considered by many as the first Filipino constitutionalist.

We should all reflect on three particular sections of his seminal work, “The Constitutional Program of the Philippine Republic” (c., 1898).

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First, Title VI — On the President of the Republic and His Government, specifically on the qualities of the President:

“76. The President is the personification of the people and for this reason his person is sacred and inviolable and he cannot be held responsible for any act performed during his term.The President is none other than the brother and friend of all Filipinos, and for this he should be considered as the first in honesty and in all the civic virtues.

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“It is a duty of honor and of conscience for him to live a life beyond reproach, as a sign of respect for his people before the entire civilized world and to give his countrymen an example of integrity and hard work.”

Second, on the role of the Senate in Title IV. — On the Senate:

“52. The Senate is a most respectable body composed of the most distinguished persons in society who are known for their integrity and their vast knowledge in any field of the sciences, arts or industry. Its function is to enlighten Congress and the Government on all issues during the incumbency of one or the other, so that the resolutions drawn up by both are always correct and justifiable; therefore only those who excel in their field of expertise and who belong to a select class may rise to this elevated position.”

And third, the standard for membership in the House of Representatives as prescribed in Title III. — On the Congress:

“27. The position of representative is the most honorable that any Filipino can aspire to, because his functions are noble and patriotic in character.

“This position in itself bestows an indelible mark of honor on the person who deserves it because of his integrity, illustriousness and industriousness; it is the office that is most worthy of personal dignity and patriotism.”

We should compare these constitutional prescriptions written over a century ago to their equivalent provisions in the 1987 Constitution. Have we progressed well in terms of institutionalizing constitutional norms? Or have we strayed too far away from Mabini’s vision of a Philippine constitutional order?

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Indeed, I encourage Filipinos to look at the current Charter change initiative through the lens of Mabini’s works. Note that he had a particularly dim view of elite-driven political movements, writing in “The Philippine Revolution”: “Any agitation promoted by a particular class for the benefit of its special interests does not deserve the name (of political revolution or evolution).”

Pertinently, Charter change has always been perceived as political projects of incumbent high-ranking public officials. Apart from their supporters, there is generally a disconnect between the public at large and the constitutional reform effort.

Heeding Mabini’s caveat, the constitutional reform process must not be the exclusive domain of political elites. On the contrary, the effort itself must be a paragon of civic engagement for it to deliver the desired outcomes.

Moreover, a deliberative process underpinning constitutional reform can potentially make the entire exercise more inclusive. It can facilitate active participation within the polity by providing a chance for those voices, who can easily be marginalized in a government-led advocacy campaign, to be heard and be considered.

For Mabini, as it should be for Filipinos at present, an initiative advancing transformative reforms for the country must answer a “need felt by the citizens in general” for the same to qualify as a true “people’s movement.”

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Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M, is a nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.

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TAGS: Apolinario Mabini, charter change, Commentary, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco
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