It ain’t broke, we are
The thing going for it is that it can’t be suspected of being a ploy to keep a president in power. Which was what all the efforts to change the Charter during Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s time naturally provoked. This time around, its proponents say, there’s no danger in Charter change being carried out by a constituent assembly, or specifically by a bicameral constituent assembly, which is the two houses of Congress voting separately on it.
Well, there may be no imminent danger to it, but there’s no compelling need for it either.
Its proponents argue that the amendments will be largely confined to economic concerns and there are enough checks and balances to assure parochial interests won’t creep into the process. Even if that could be done—which a constituent assembly most assuredly cannot—what of it? Why not submit the economic changes to public debate and possibly to a plebiscite where their vital importance has been demonstrated?
I do know many officials and businessmen want a couple of things. One is to remove the constitutional ban on foreigners owning the majority share of businesses in this country. Some want the limit raised and others want it removed completely, allowing foreigners 100-percent ownership, even of media outfits. One argument is that if we can allow, or indeed encourage, Filipinos to work for foreign companies abroad, why can’t we do the same thing here and reap the benefits besides? Two is to remove the constitutional ban on foreigners owning land in the country.
If these are the specific things that need doing—and they are bound to spark more frenzied debate than the US bases or GATT—then why resort to constitutional amendment or change? At the very least, that is getting rid of a cockroach with a shotgun. At the very most, that is a debate that should bring in the public itself and not just the senators and congressmen into the fray. The latter may not harbor parochial interests—which is like saying the world is flat—but they do so thoroughly vested ones.
But preventing the senators and congressmen from going beyond economic concerns to looking at the Constitution as a whole with a Cha-cha is like preventing the waters from bursting through a crack in the dam. Which brings us to why we should change, or amend, the Constitution in the first place.
In the past, one argument has been that we could do with going from presidential to parliamentary, with a unicameral Parliament in lieu of a bicameral Congress, and with a prime minister voted by the party in power instead of at large. That presumably will have the effect of producing better leaders since the prime minister need not lie at the mercy of the rabble, also called the voters, who like to vote only for movie stars or entertainers. Additionally, as Fidel Ramos likes to point out, it will make People Power superfluous since Parliament can always recall the prime minister at any time by a vote of no-confidence.
In fact the opposite can be true as well, as we’ve seen in the past. It was so in Marcos’ time when the Batasan was a mere rubber stamp for him. And though Arroyo had a Congress in lieu of a Parliament, she also demonstrated the infinite dangers of having the legislative body overwhelmed by the party in power led by a despotic leader. Rather than the leader being in constant danger of being recalled anytime by a powerful legislative, he, or she, can always be in constant luxury of being able to extend his or her rule anytime with the consent of one. Had Cory not died on the eve of elections, we might not have had one.
What all this says is simple: Every change has its plus and minuses. There are no perfect blueprints. The parliamentary and federal systems are not naturally better than the presidential and unitary ones. They are only as good as people make them so. They work only as well as people make them so. Which brings us to an ever bigger question, which is really the heart of the matter:
Where does the problem lie, in our Constitution or in us?
The Constitution, for all its rich trappings, is just another law, albeit the fundamental law of the land. Trying to change the Constitution to improve our lives is like trying to introduce harsher punishments for crime to improve peace and order. Neither will work—unless a people make them work. A people don’t imbibe the spirit of the Constitution, they can have as many constitutions as they want and it won’t make a hoot of difference. A people don’t obey laws anyway, and they can propose to lop off the offending organs of rapists and all they’ll do is produce more lawyers who will know how to get around it.
We allow a candidate to steal the presidency and no amount of improving the Bill of Rights will make us more democratic. We allow the rich and powerful to get away with murder and no amount of extolling equality will make us more egalitarian. We allow the venal to pillage the country and take the spoils out of it and no amount of affirming the national patrimony will make us take better care of it.
There’s a profound truth to the saying: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way; where there’s no will there’s just an excuse.” A truth proven so easily by the fact that foreigners have always skirted the prohibition on them owning the better part of businesses by having Filipino dummies, who are not always such dummies, to hold their money and make the investments for them. On the other hand, for so long have we pointed to our laws, and our Constitution in particular, to excuse our failings. In fact we don’t need to change the Charter, we need to change ourselves. Take it from Cassius, it’s not in our stars, or our Constitution, but in ourselves that we are underlings.
The Charter ain’t broke, we are. It’s we who need fixing.
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