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News Commentary

Full text: 1987 Constitution has 3 central themes, 2 mistakes, says framer

Christian Monsod - Philstar.com
1987 Constitutional Commission
Oathtaking of members of the Constitutional Commission at the Batasan Pambansa Complex in Quezon City on June 2, 1986.
Official Gazette

The following is the full text of the speech of lawyer Christian Monsod, a former Commission on Elections chair and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

Monsod delivered this on the day of commemoration of the EDSA People Power Revolution on Feb. 25, 2023, at the Movement Against Disinformation event at the University of the Philippines Law Center.

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My talk today is about EDSA, the Constitution and our future. What was EDSA? It is the privilege of age to recall images that make sense of his surroundings. My image of EDSA is the rich and the poor locking arms together in front of tanks, raising fists defiantly in the air and singing Bayan Ko.

The immediate trigger of EDSA was the snap elections on Feb. 7 which was marked by all the outrageous elements of election failure. By the NAMFREL count, after adjusting for the election returns without the certification by registered watchers as pre-agreed with the Comelec, Cory won that election.

There are many genuine heroes in the context of EDSA—first, are those who stood up to the dictator during martial rule through their torture, sufferings and even death. And then there were the 500,000 NAMFREL volunteers who staked their lives to protect the ballot. Nine of them died for the cause, all from the poor. All of them had no agenda except the country. Most have passed into history, unsung, but content in their anonymity.

There is a book titled “Bantay ng Bayan – Stories of the NAMFREL CRUSADE from 1984-1986” by Kaa Byington, who died a couple of years ago, still in love with the Philippines, she wrote—“All NAMFREL is is people and you’d have to talk to half a million of them to get it down. I have never enjoyed doing anything as much as I enjoyed researching this book… they were ordinary folk in ordinary life, who transcended themselves to uplift a nation. Theirs is a story that goes beyond national boundaries, a story for all humanity. Maybe only a foreigner, an American even, could write it.”

Many call EDSA a “revolution” including [the Movement Against Disinformation], but the Davide Commission, of which I was a member, that investigated the seven coup attempts against the Cory government called it a “people power revolt” because it is unfinished business. EDSA was not only about the restoration of democracy, it was also the promise of a new social order that remains unfulfilled through every administration since EDSA. And those of us who had our turn in government have an accountability to the poor for that failure.

"[It was called] 'people power revolt' because it is unfinished business. EDSA was not only about the restoration of democracy, it was also the promise of a new social order that remains unfulfilled through every administration since EDSA. And those of us who had our turn in government have an accountability to the poor for that failure."

The fact is that after we brought our nation to greatness at EDSA and after we accomplished in the 1992 elections the first peaceful transfer of power in 27 years, we folded our banners, we put away the T-shirts with the imaginative slogans that brought humor to the seriousness of the times, and went back to our personal purposes and advocacies. And as we went our separate ways with our separate causes, we lost something of the dream of a nation and the significance of our interconnected lives.

"As we went our separate ways with our separate causes, we lost something of the dream of a nation and the significance of our interconnected lives."

We are here today because we know this must change. And we must go back to our beginnings at EDSA.

Since surveys show that 73% of our people know nothing or very little of the Constitution, this is briefly what I can say about it.

EDSA was the inspiration of the 1987 Constitution, which was the first time that we spoke to the world as a truly independent and democratic Filipino nation. It is a document that had not been imposed on us by any colonial power or by a dictatorship.

In our national consultations before we started writing, we listened to the people and they preferred the stability of familiar structures—a democratic representative, presidential system, with checks and balances and separation of powers. And, overwhelmingly, they wanted the power to directly elect their president.

Many of the provisions of the 1935 and 1973 constitutions are retained in the 1987 Constitution, with refinements when necessary. But it also innovated with three central themes:

1. FIRST, the heart of the Constitution is social justice with the poor as the center of our development, as enunciated by the President of the Constitutional Commission former Justice Cecilia Munoz-Palma. Hence, a new Article on Social Justice to address not only mass poverty but also the gross social, economic and political inequalities that is rooted in a feudalistic system of dynastic families that has been impervious to change for generations. And the corruption that goes with it. This compelling principle is encapsulated in the last sentence of Article XIII, Sec. 1 “…..by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”

2. SECOND, never again to any authoritarian government. Hence, the strict limitations and conditions for declaring martial law with new provisions, including in the Bill of Rights, to protect citizens against abuses by the State; and
 
3. THIRD, the national destiny must firmly and safely rest on Filipinos themselves. Never again amendments similar to the 1935 Constitution that gave Americans equal rights to our patrimony, and economic policies where even our exchange rate after independence could not be changed without the approval of the United States. Which resulted in the foreign exchange crisis of the early fifties.

The 1987 Constitution also cut the umbilical cord of the 1935 and 1973 constitutions to the United States Constitution. The U.S. Constitution gives primacy to civil and political rights because it is a country of immigrants who all started from the same position and only wanted to be free from autocracy. Hence, the emphasis in the United States on individual rights and a market economy.

Our Constitution gives social and economic rights equal primacy with civil and political rights because we are a country of inequalities from the colonial days to the present where the starting positions of the rich and the poor are not equal.

Social justice is about the adjustment of these starting positions before we foster the market competition advanced by neo-liberal economics that it is enough to provide “equality of opportunity” and a “fair process” without being too concerned about outcomes, and that rising waters raise all boats forgetting that many boats are crammed with people, many without enough food, amid the luxury yachts of the rich.

That is why social justice provisions are even included in the Article XII on the Economy:

For example, Sec. 6, “the use of property bears a social function and all economic agents shall contribute to the common good... subject to the duty of the State to promote distributive justice when the common good so demands.”

To fulfill the vision of a new social order, the State should engage in income distribution programs (primarily quality education and quality health care) and asset distribution programs for the poorest of the poor (agrarian reform, urban land reform and housing, ancestral domain and fisheries reform.)

All these programs are underperforming because all reform programs are either underfunded (AR was supposed to get P225b over 20 years but got only P175b) or with loopholes like the distribution of shares instead of land of Hacienda Luisita which was finally ended by the Supreme Court in 2014. As for ULRH (Urban Land Reform and Housing), LGUs can sell their lands to rich land developers, with commissions of course, instead of using them for housing for the poor to save them 4 hours of heavy traffic to go to work. Our indigenous peoples used to own all the land, but were driven to higher ground by our colonial masters in complicity with cacique landowners. Where they are now facing mining companies who are not only given access to our minerals, without any value on them as raw materials, but also given forestry and water rights.

(I can go on and on about these but that is for another time.)

This is the Constitution that they want to change. The most illogical argument is from the Foundation for Economic Freedom—they say that we still have mass poverty and gross inequalities after 37 years and therefore the Constitution must be changed. It is the worst, if not the most stupid, example of “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy I have heard.

On the contrary I submit that the problem is not the Constitution but because we have not fully implemented it, especially its provisions on social justice and local autonomy.

On the contrary I submit that the problem is not the Constitution but because we have not fully implemented it, especially its provisions on social justice and local autonomy.

And instead of charter change Congress should pass an anti-dynasty law that it has not legislated in 37 years because it is against their self-interest. Then there is the need for three amendments to the Party-list system to reflect the intent of the Constitution and stop the abuse of it namely:

(a) an anti-dynasty provision in the law,

(b) removing the maximum of three representatives per party because it is a system of proportional representation,

(c) removing the loophole of “track record of advocacy” which enabled a Forbes Park resident to represent tricycle drivers.

I am often asked if we made mistakes in writing the Constitution. No constitution is perfect, because it is written by imperfect people. But from hindsight we may have made two mistakes – we overestimated the spirit of EDSA and we underestimated the greed for power of politicians and the greed for wealth of the rich.

"No constitution is perfect, because it is written by imperfect people. But from hindsight we may have made two mistakes – we overestimated the spirit of EDSA and we underestimated the greed for power of politicians and the greed for wealth of the rich."

Where are we today?

Today, we are on a slippery slope to authoritarianism under a dynastic political system with even deeper roots than at the time of EDSA. In fact, we face a coalition of dynasties of four presidents – Estrada, Arroyo, Duterte and Marcos. Our system of checks and balances is weakening. The Rule of Law is on a decline and the index of corruption is increasing. We have a Supreme Court that over-deferred to President Duterte on the issue of the sufficiency of the factual basis for proclaiming martial law, on his personal vendettas against Senator de Lima and Chief Justice Sereno, on the red-tagging and over-detention of suspects under the Anti-Terrorism Law, on dismissing the petition inquiring on the state of health of the President. And then there is the impunity of the extra-judicial killings on the anti-drug campaign and the creation of a pork barrel system for the Executive for contingency, intelligence and any public purpose.

And now there is another move to change the Constitution.

There have been six attempts to change the Constitution. Two were struck down by the Supreme Court—the Pirma of Ramos to extend his term and the Arroyo Sigaw ng Bayan People Initiative to shift to a Federal-Parliamentary system. The other four were withdrawn for lack of public support. All were perceived by the people as self-serving changes for more power and more money for themselves. Duterte even endorsed in 2018 the Puno Consultative Committee proposal to overhaul the Constitution only to withdraw it in 2019 when his finance department and the NEDA issued a statement that the shift to a federal system is a "risky, intricate political experiment that is vulnerable to unintended consequences."

And in 2018 was the survey of SWS that 67% of the people were against charter change even as Duterte enjoyed a high trust rating of, if I recall, in the 80s.

We cannot allow this Charter change to prosper. Based on their proposals, we will likely get a Constitution that waters down the social justice provisions, gives preference to business rather than welfare ends, gives authoritarian powers to the Executive, aligns the Bill of Rights with the Anti-Terrorism law. And five-year terms for all elective officials, including the president and vice president, with one re-election for another five years.

As for a regionalized federal system, political science experts say that it will further entrench the existing dominant groups in the regions—in our case—political dynasties, warlords and the landed elite who will likely find the regional powers and resources of federalism to their liking.

On the amendments to the economic provisions with the insertion of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in six areas of investment, it just opens the door wider to transactional legislation at which corrupt politicians and greedy business are most adept.

"On the amendments to the economic provisions with the insertion of the phrase 'unless otherwise provided by law' in six areas of investment, it just opens the door wider to transactional legislation at which corrupt politicians and greedy business are most adept."

On Jan. 20, 2023, the NEDA Board chaired by the President [Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.] released the 480 pages of the Philippine Development Plan for 2023-2028. It declared that the country is now “open for business” citing the relevant laws and policies. The plan has a legislative agenda for each objective. Please note that there is no mention at all of any amendment or revision of the Constitution as a means to achieve any of the objectives.

Neither is there any condition for Charter change in the $63 billion of investment pledges from the President’s trips abroad.

As for the process of convening a constitutional convention, it is hypocritical for Congress to assure the people that since they will vote for the delegates, they are assured of a capable and independent body. They know that since the delegates will come from the congressional districts the profile of the delegates will be exactly the same as the present Congress that is dominated by political dynasties. The constitutional convention is "lutong macao."

As for the ongoing “consultations” by the congressmen, except for the small opposition, it’s all about propaganda of false premises and false promises. Why don’t they listen to the proposal of the UP Department of Political Science that the consultations should be conducted by an independent body where the pros and cons of Charter change are debated before the people?

And then there is the cost. The House is earmarking P300 million for the convention and the Comelec estimates that the additional cost of including the election of delegates in the Barangay elections in October is about P2 billion. Think of what those amounts can do to alleviate the plight of the poor from the pandemic.

And, of course, there is the question to President Marcos Jr.—beyond the play of words about priorities, is he for or against Charter change at this time?

RELATED: Marcos says Cha-cha 'not a priority for me' | Election of con-con delegates to cost P1.5 billion – lawmaker

Finally to ourselves, how do we get off the slippery slope of authoritarianism to the real change we seek?

First, are we agreed on the ends? Because unless we agree on the ends—which is a new social order—then our means will not be the same. And if we agree on the ends, are we willing to pay the price for it, especially if it is against our self-interest? Are we willing to make sacrifices for love of country and for love of the poor because, we are told, “sacrifice is the currency of love.”

Second, our country is in need of heroes. Not the superheroism of a Mahatma Gandhi or a Nelson Mandella or a Ninoy Aquino, but as “ordinary everyday heroes”—described by author Philip Zimbardo as “the courage to expose fraud (or fight disinformation) when we see it or to say “no” to complicity in wrongdoing or by the “hardiness to be different or difficult to do what is right when it is easier to conform."
 
Third, democracy is about dialogue and compromise, and from my personal experience, there are good and bad people in every administration. And we must always look for these good people and connect with them because the poor cannot wait for another administration. They have been waiting for 37 years. There are some successes in that regard, such as the cases of farmers of Sumilao, Palawan, Laguna, the Negros provinces and the urban poor in Valenzuela City, Quezon City, Marikina among others  
 
Moreover, the poor say that they prefer to rely on themselves to improve their lives using people power in their communities and will no longer risk their lives or livelihoods in street protests in a fight among the elite. This is the changing paradigm of people power and a good omen for the future. And in that regard we in this room are all intermediaries and should consider ourselves as successful in that mission when we are no longer needed when the poor have been empowered to fight for themselves,

Fourth, as my expert friend on development says—when the social contract between the government and the people may be breaking down like today, the communities should take it upon themselves to change the nature of the social contract.

Thus, the correct response to this new framework are social movements like the community food pantries. It is a powerful response of the people to help themselves, when those who have help those in need— spontaneous, democratic, caring and done with humility and without drama.

Then there is the example of what the NGO Synergeia is doing in the education of children at the grassroots, where the barangays and the teachers are working with the parents, who are also helping one another, to improve the education of our children. Synergeia is already in about 400 municipalities successfully operating through changes in the national leadership.

These stories are inspiring because it shows that people can be transformational in their communities regardless of who is in power at the national level.

From these communities will come the leaders of tomorrow from the bottom up. But the national transformation will take time. Let’s start with the coming barangay elections in October when we can challenge the legislature to demonstrate their sincerity for real change by incorporating a four-degree anti-dynasty provision in it.

We then continue to nurture the young from the poor, with the help of the church, to run in succeeding elections in the municipalities, then the provinces, then the nation. We must persevere like a long-distance runner from elections after elections after elections until we have dismantled the dynastic system with a new generation of leaders who come from or know how it is to be poor. Only then can we have real change.

And sixth—network, network, network to challenge the “alternative facts," the “fake news” and the “post truths."

Democracy has not been meaningful to the poor. And we must make it work because surveys show that they want social change through peaceful democratic means—meaning free, fair and regular elections—as opposed to a revolutionary government, a military coup, an open-ended provisional government or a charter change to extend the terms of officeholders. Is that too much for them to ask for?  

"Democracy has not been meaningful to the poor."

Can we relive that historic moment of solidarity at EDSA that moved an international audience to tears by the nobility of its purpose?

On that note, may I close by reminding us of the mandate of the Lord that “whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”

And by paraphrasing Albert Camus when he received the Nobel Peace Prize; “we should put ourselves at the service, not of those who make history but of those who suffer it.”
 
Thank you and good day.

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Editor's Note: The text as delivered is minimally edited here to follow style and formatting standards.

vuukle comment

1987 CONSTITUTION

CHRISTIAN MONSOD

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