Former chief justices disagree on need for charter change, but not on mode

Gaea Katreena Cabico - The Philippine Star
Former chief justices disagree on need for charter change, but not on mode

Despite their differences, both former chief justices agreed that any amendments or revisions to Constitution should be done through Constitutional Convention instead of Constituent Assembly despite the mode being the more expensive one.

Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Retired chief magistrates had contrasting opinions on the proposal to revise the 1987 Constitution as the Senate began deliberations on charter change Wednesday.

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide said he sees no need to amend or revise the three-decade old Constitution because it is the “best in the world and for the country.”

Davide said that whil the charter is imperfect, "it contains sufficient provisions against abuse of power and for active participation of people."

Davide added: “This is the only Constitution I know of which is pro-Filipino, pro-people, pro-life, pro-family, pro-marriage, pro-poor, pro-human rights, pro-women, among others. I have yet to see a constitution that could surpass our Constitution.”

He also called the proposed shift to federalism a “lethal experiment” and a “leap to hell.”

Professor Edmundo Garcia, on of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, also said that it is not the right time for a new Constitution or a shift to federalism. He said that the Local Government Code, which is meant to give local government units more power, can instead be strengthened to bring about the redistribution of revenues, funding and power that the shift to federalism is meant to.

He said focusing on changing the Constitution would take attention away from other pressing social issues. "

Federalism? Not at this time. A new Constitution? Not now," he said.

Former Chief Justice Renato Puno said, however, that although the 1987 Constitution improved on previous constitutions, it is time to give the present charter a "no nonsense lookover." 

He said the Philippines needs an updated constitution. "The world has changed. We now have globalization. We see now the revolution caused by technology," he said.

Puno, a long-time advocate of federalism, said that if the country is shifting to a federal form of government from unitary, a greater part of the Constitution should be revised.

Former Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr, father and namesake of the current senate president, echoed Puno, saying that the government cannot employ the federal system by only passing a law.

But he said that there is no need to revise thr good provisions of the Constitution.

Responding to Davide’s statement that the shift to federalism is a “lethal experiment,” Pimentel said that it is a vital proposal because it provides good life to the people.

Constitutional Convention, not Constituent Assembly

Despite their differences in opinion, both former chief justices agreed that any amendments or revisions to Constitution should be done through Constitutional Convention instead of a Constituent Assembly even though the latter would be quicker and would cost less to do.

“This is to ensure that the delegates are duly-elected by the people through a nonpartisan election. There should be no rush, no hurry,” Davide said.

Puno, for his part, also prefers amendments through a Con-Con but a hybrid one composed of appointed and elected delegates.

He also branded as a “cheap argument” the position that charter change should be done via ConAss because it is cheaper than ConCon.

“We should not count the cost when writing a constitution. A good constitution is the best investment people can make,” Puno said.

In a ConCon, the people who will amend the constitution are elected or appointed, while in ConAss, the members of Congress convene to modify the charter.

Chief Presidential Legal Adviser Salvador Panelo, who was among the resource speakers, said that although a Constituent Assembly would be quicker since members of Congress have already been elected, the mode does not matter to the Palace too much.

He said President Rodrigo Duterte told him that whether it is through a Constituent Assembly or a Constitutional Convention, the proposed amendments to the Constitution should not go against the will of the people.

He said the president would campaign against the ratification of a proposed constitution that will not benefit the people.

Congress must vote separately

But if Congress does decide to come together in a joint session, both retired chief magistrates said that the House of the Representatives and the Senate must vote separately.

“As institutions, they are equal. We will destroy this institutional quality if House and Senate will vote together,” Puno said.

On Tuesday, the lower house adopted the resolution seeking to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has filed a resolution calling for the Senate to convene as a separate Constituent Assembly to preserve the upper house's independence. 





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