Touch me not
GLIMPSES

Touch me not

12:30 AM February 16, 2024

The attack on the Constitution is relentless. It is not an amendment, it is an attack. When the Constitution is being subjected to possible amendments, whether economic or political, it means the Constitution is being blamed for something that is happening badly in our country – or for something good that is not happening.

What is wrong with our country? Many things, too many to count, so let us start with the most important. The most common complaint are 1) corruption, 2) poverty, 3) red tape and mismanagement, 4) illegal drugs, 5) learning poverty, and 6) weak justice system.

I am sure that there are many more concerns, but these afore-mentioned five issues can be considered the most major.

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Singly, in combination, or all of them collectively, these five major problems are not caused by the Constitution. If we bring all of these into a national conversation and an eventual debate, there will be many causes that will be discussed. Naturally, I am sure there will be justifiable grounds why the mentioned causes will be blamed. 

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I am also sure that the Constitution will not be a root cause of the worst problems of our country. The criticisms against the most serious problems have been aired in tri-media for years and decades by Filipino citizens, day after day (when they are not afraid of government harassment), but the Constitution is not the one deemed as responsible for the mess.

Instead of exerting attention and action on what the people see as the root causes, instead of firming up laws and law enforcement to address more effectively the glaring cancers that have debilitated our nation, the Marcos administration and its allies in the House of Representatives want to attack the Constitution as though it is the monster that is destroying the Filipino people and nation.

Can the Constitution ever be amended? Of course, if there is an urgent need that directly prejudices people’s lives. But a Constitution that cannot even be applied well in the governance of the country has no reason to become even more difficult to apply. It is a waste of time for citizens to be brought to another exercise in upgrading a Constitution that they never understood well enough in the first place.

Since an effort to amend the Constitution has been initiated, it might be a good time to actually create a faithful synopsis of the core purposes and visions of our Constitution. Let this be translated and detailed in major dialects, then cascaded to the barangays for massive dissemination and discussion. 

The study and review of the Constitution can concentrate on two major parts – the responsibility of citizens and the responsibility of governance. We cannot anymore take for granted that Filipinos understand what is required of them. All the more, we cannot take for granted  that government officials and employees know what they swear an oath to do, and in what manner they are obligated to perform their duties.

When Filipinos better understand what is expected of them by the nation as expressed by Constitution, when the same Filipinos better understand the responsibility and accountability of public officials and employees, they can then deliberately participate in nation building. Filipinos can also take to task public officials and employees, from the President to the barangay employee, who violate their oath of office.

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Filipino citizens do not know, understand, and appreciate how our Constitution is framed to protect them from bad governance. Because they do not, they do not realize that their rights are violated wantonly by the performance of many elected and appointed government officials and employees. Many of us know that there are age requirements for many positions, but most of us do not know that a code of conduct and ethics, a most noble code befitting a noble people, obligates each public servant to perform his and her duties in a noble manner – or be terminated, if not prosecuted.

The Constitution makes it very easy for Filipino citizens to meet qualification requirements for public office, basically just being old enough and not convicted of wrongdoing that disqualifies the person from public office. The protection from unqualified public servants is totally assured by the code of conduct and ethics that governs all public servants – elected and appointed. 

Let me summarize that code, and let the code be the central focus of education and discussion for all citizens:

“Public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.” 

The Constitution honors the values and virtues of our culture and the honorable lives of our forefathers. It can allow the most simple and ordinary Filipino to run for office, or be appointed to public office, but it demands the the best conduct and highest ethics from all who serve the people. The central debate regarding the Constitution, before it becomes technical, should be to question why public officials and employees cannot comply with the code of conduct and ethics and why the laws, especially Republic Act 6713, cannot be enforced. 

The main problems besetting our people and nation can be directly connected to the failure of the law to ensure that public service lives up to the code of conduct and ethics. If corruption is rampant, the conduct and ethics of public servants is shamelessly violated and most are easily getting away with it. It is the main reason why corruption is the culture, why poverty cannot be addressed, why education has no role models in abundance, why red tape is more constant than efficiency, why public servants display unexplained wealth with impunity.

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Why are we even considering amendments to the Constitution when we cannot even get the code of conduct and ethics understood by both the citizens as their right to expect from those who serve them and public servants as their sworn duty to uphold? Our Constitution cries, “Touch me not!” 

TAGS: Constitution, constitutional amendments, opinion

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