When change is not good
SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - December 8, 2018 - 12:00am

Care for an academic discussion on changing the Constitution? That’s all you’ll get these days for your  interest in Charter change. However earnest the House and the Speaker have been in their importunings, there is zero chance that the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No.  15 to adopt the draft constitution (with Federalism features) as proposed by the House of Representatives would evolve into a new constitution anytime soon.

Sixty-seven percent of respondents at the most recent Pulse Asia survey were squarely against constitutional change with only 18 percent desirous. This was back in July, at the height of the administration’s effort to drum up public interest, if not support for the initiative, through the activities of the President’s 25 man Consultative Committee on Charter Change. Given this clearly negative public sentiment, a continued campaign is rendered moot and academic. The Senate says No.

Grand Central. But it passed the House, nonetheless, aboard the familiar trains that regularly rush through that station. The ones with conductors wearing blinders and using ear plugs? Their proposal would remove two most important guarantees of equal opportunity to public service: the ban on political dynasties and the imposition of term limits. The package also inserts a promise of good governance: the college degree requirement for elective national officials. 

This last proposal is anti-poor and a poison pill for democratic representation. Only 10 percent of the population had college degrees in 2010. This year, that figure increased to 36 percent. If this provision were adopted today, 64 percent would be disenfranchised. The only time such a requirement would not be discriminatory is when we shall have hit a 100 percent penetration for college education. Should that happen, the college degree as a qualification becomes superfluous.

Speaking of academic, the proposal to make the Speaker the head of the Commission on Appointments is another one head scratcher. The Commission on Appointments was a creation of the 1935 Constitution: a 21-man body, originally, from the membership of a then unicameral National Assembly. The Constitution was amended in 1940 restoring the bicameral form of Congress. The Commission was likewise revamped, reflecting its current composition. The Senate President, in a nod to his national constituency and in deference to the Senate’s history as the original check on appointments under the American Colonial period, sits as ex-oficio chair. 

This last innovation giving the Commission Chairmanship to the Speaker is reflective of the self-serving complexion of the entire RBH No. 15, validating the apprehension of many in leaving the power to amend the Constitution in the hands of our legislators. In 1967, Japanese scholars Masamichi and Tatsuji wrote in their monograph, the Philippine Polity: a Japanese view: “changing of a system to suit men does not seem to be a novel phenomenon in the Philippines.”

On the subject of throwback. We see in the current efforts, specially those from the House, a bias toward reinforcing the powers of the political departments. This is a long anticipated correction. The 1986 Constitutional Commission presided over the demise of the prerogatives of the Executive and the  Legislature. This was part reaction to the abuses of these branches during the Marcos martial law years and part power play from the Commission’s pro-judiciary, non-political delegates. They alertly seized the opportunity for greater independence for the Court even if this meant compromising judicial accountability.

This was the Constitution that imposed limits on the Executive’s martial law powers and the appointing power – to name a few; Congress had to endure refinements of the long established power of legislative inquiry so as to protect the rights of witnesses, among others. It was only the Judiciary that ended up disproportionately strengthened, primarily by an expanded power of judicial review.

Equally empowering for them was the exemption from having to run the gauntlet of legislators at the  Commission on Appointments. Instead, they were given their own “home court” master initiators by way of the Judicial and Bar Council.

Life imitating art. He couldn’t have asked for a better script. Sen. Ramon “Bong” Revilla Jr. was the last of the Mohicans that remained in detention from the infamous 2014 arrest of Senators initially implicated in the P10 billion PDAF-Napoles controversy. Together with former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, he was charged with plunder, prioritized for arrest and prosecution. This was perpetrated by and under the direction of then Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima, singling them out from a long list of legislators, several of whom belonged to President Benigno Aquino III’s own party.

Yesterday, after more than four years at the “Crame Hilton,” he was acquitted. Senator Bong will be leading the LAKAS ticket for a return to the Senate to finish the work he was elected to do as No. 1 Senator in the 2010 elections. At the time, with the votes of more than 19 million Filipinos, he had the highest vote count in history for a Senator. The record has since been eclipsed by Senator Grace Poe-Llamanzares who won with more than 20 million votes to top the 2013 elections.

Yes, there are questions left to be resolved on civil liabilities and the impact of the decision on his remaining criminal cases. Janet Napoles was convicted. But these are questions for another day. Today, he is out and free to be with his family, his friends, his fans and his public. It is a story of justice and redemption not far removed from the scripts of the box-office movies he headlined. When he filed his certificate of candidacy last August, he was a detention prisoner. Now, he campaigns as a man who lost those four+ years of his life, imprisoned for a crime the Court says he did not commit. In this season of bio-pics, Vice, Bohemian Rhapsody, Narcos, Goyo, Heneral Luna, the Bong Revilla story may yet prove to be the biggest hit of all for its protagonist.

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