Opinion ( Leaderboard Top ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1      

Thinking with history

As we draw nearer to the hour of decision on whether or not we will amend the Constitution, I am gripped by a romantic view of what should govern our advocacy: that we return to the original impulse that gave birth to the Filipino nation. That impulse was the declaration of independence from Spain after a bloody revolution. I refer to the 1899 Malolos Constitution, having been gained by blood and tears, as the most authentic of all the constitutions that governed our country. The 1899 Constitution was definitely parliamentary. Historians Teodoro Agoncillo and Cesar Majul both point out that the debate between Felipe Calderon and Apolinario Mabini on whether the new nation should have a strong legislature or a strong executive had a deeper, underlying conflict. According to the editors of Shift, a publication of the Ateneo Center for Social Policy and Public Affairs in favor of shifting to parliamentary government, Calderon favored a strong legislative because he preferred an "oligarchy of intelligence" over an "ignorant oligarchy". Although Calderon won that debate, the question continued to haunt Filipinos through the years and up to the present because that Constitution was never enforced. Within days of the ratification of the 1899 Constitution, the first important Filipino document produced by people’s representatives, the Filipino- American War broke out.

* * *

We must recover that past to animate the surge to full nationhood in our time. If a constitution is the soul of a country, then the Malolos Constitution embodied our finest hour as the first country in Asia to overthrow its colonizers. The constitutions which followed, some four of them did not have the same powerful symbolism for nationhood that 1899 evokes. The 1935 Constitution was dictated by the Americans. This same framework for the country continued even after political independence in 1946. The 1973 constitution was completed under martial law but its ratification was under a cloud. It was ratified through "managed constitutional assemblies" and used to legitimise Marcos’ authoritarian rule. The present 1987 Constitution, cobbled after the EDSA peaceful people’s power revolution, restored democracy and set goals to meet national and international challenges after the unlamented Marcos dictatorship. The foregoing demonstrates that so far our constitutions have been promulgated under extraordinary situations. Present constitutional reformists believe that for the first time we may have the opportunity to cobble a constitution without foreign interference or the heavy hand of martial rule or the fear of a return to authoritarianism. Changes to the 1987 Constitution will be put forward that would achieve social and political goals long desired by Filipinos since the beginning of this nation but for a long interruption.

* * *

We now turn to the question of how we should amend the Constitution by constituent assembly or by constitutional convention. Constituent assembly has surged forward as the preferred mode as more and more Filipinos find there is common sense in choosing the method which enables us to mmediately respond to changing times, cause the least pain, the least delay and the least cost . Congress is mandated by the Constitution to form a constituent assembly as a mode for changing the Constituion. Advocates of constitutional convention and some of these are senators who want us to believe that it is in the public interest to be for constitutional convention. Prescinding from the suspicion that they do not really want constitutional change, the senators’ stand really means that they do not care if it will take at least one year to even get the delegates act together identifying issues to be debated, horse trading, committee meetings and so on and to the tune of more than P8 billion to taxpayers. Besides as Professor Wilfrido "Menito" Villacorta, a constitutional expert, has wisely written "constitutional conventions are actually not meant for amendments, but are convened for the purpose of drafting an entirely new charter, on the assumption that the existing comstitution is so seriously flawed it must be changed completely. Such wholesale change is appropriate only after the "overthrow of a dictatorship" and "the establishment or restoration of democracy." That is not the situation we are in now. We are improving on a good Constitution with some loose ends to close because of the hurry in which it was drafted after the demise of Marcos’s rule.

* * *

The crucial event in the run-up to constitutional change through constituent assembly is the signing of the social contract which will state exactly what civil society wants change in the 1987 Constitution. That should overcome any suspicion that Congress, whether congressmen or senators will rewrite the constitution in their self-interest. As I write I know that frenetic preparations are taking place to get the nation behind constitutional reform through a social contract which will bind Congress to the reforms envisioned by sovereign citizens. A look at the list of delegates to both the the 1934 and the 1971 constitutinal conventions, in any case belies the reasoning that a convention would be made up of non-politicans. On the contrary, the majority of past constitutional conventions were politicians and those who were not at the time they were elected delegates eventually became politicians. Therefor those who advocate constitutional convention are suppressing the very reason why we are seeking change. To be elected in this country one must have financial resources, a political base and machinery. It is not the ordinary Filipino idealist or reformist that will get elected to the convention but those who lost in past elections, those whose terms have expired or those who are related to incumbents. We have to change the political structure to enable those gifted but without these resources to participate in governance. That is why the next best thing to getting selfless men and women elected is to draw up a social contract with the present Congress that will ensure only those changes agreed upon will be touched. The social contract will also achieve a national unity that has eluded us in the current political system. As it were the social contract is a written agreement of a joint venture between those who govern and those who are governed.

* * *

As I write there is an relentless drive to get 12 senators on board to enable Congress to form a constituent assembly. I am told that we now have 11 senators willing to listen to arguments for constituent assembly and need only one more senator to swing this momentous effort. At first, most of the senators did not want even to participate in debating constitutional reform. They hid behind what sounds like a "noble reason" – that a constitutional convention would be more representative even if most of them are aware that this is not true and will not happen in the Philippines given its political structure. It was not the genuine debate between con-con and con-ass as some have made it to appear. The senators who are blocking constituent assembly are not for constitutional reform even if they want to appear as "being for constitutional change but only through con-con." Why? Because after May 2004, we will have a new set of officials who will not want their terms diminished or troubled by charter change. It will be business as usual the way we have continued to do things to the detriment of the country.

* * *

To those who say that we need a change in men not in institutions, it is not one or the other. It is well known that we need change both in men and in institutions and that is the ideal. According to experts, change happens either by changing the behavior of the individual, or changing the structures of the instituions within which the individual is made to operate, or what is called institutional change. We might ask: How we will change men and women in a political system which demands lots of money or simple popularity as in movie star popularity, to get elected? We can begin to change Filipinos by changing the environment in which we conduct politics. I have no candidate for president in May 2004.

Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
* * *

My e-mail is: cpedrosa@edsamail.com.ph

Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
  • Follow Us: