When truth comes second

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Priceless lessons on the most basic traits of honesty and integrity were learned from our forefathers, grandparents, parents, more senior friends, teachers and colleagues. Surely, we are not lacking in our collective definition on the intrinsic value of striving to stay close to the truth. Defend it. And don’t create rationalizations that justify substituting convenience or exigency in its name.

Defining the truth became more of a philosophical discourse. I don’t intend to further meddle in this. My main concern is more mundane and practical. Instead, as a baseline, let’s just assume first that truth simply means factually correct. Verifiable when checked. And when warranted, can be validated by documents and actual events.

Let me focus on probably the most controversial political issue today: Shall we amend our 1987 Constitution or not? Many pundits and critics claim that we must not tinker with our fundamental laws. I respect their views and arguments. My personal take on this is more pragmatic. Changing the specific economic and even a number of political provisions is necessary if we aspire to improve the lives of our citizens. Perhaps, and I would be willing to concede, the timing can be vital, whether or not this should be done now or in the next administration. But changing the restrictive economic and ineffective political provisions is no longer a question of if, but a question of when.

Let’s look at the results of our countless national and local elections. Have we really chosen the best among the candidates? It’s common knowledge that popularity can easily overwhelm any solid track record and flawless credentials of a lesser-known candidate. Yes, democracy works this way. I agree. But we must put in place the mechanisms that will help guarantee accountability, platform-based campaign, stronger party system, among others.

For example, the almost automatic abandonment of political affiliation can be avoided if our Constitution would expressly prohibit instant turncoatism at least for a minimum period of say, three years. Couple this with the obligation of national political parties to clearly advocate and pursue specific programs to which candidates swear their allegiance. Hence, candidates will be married and compelled to the principles and advocacies of their chosen political party for at least one electoral cycle. The electorate may also evolve into a more issues and platform-conscious citizens.

With regard to the economic space, land ownership by foreigners is still not allowed. 100 percent corporate ownership is still limited in most businesses. Foreign investors, of course, evaluate more issues aside from these restrictions such as strategic choices, competition, electricity, ease of doing business, criminality, infrastructure, corruption, etc.

There are other specific political and economic issues that can be addressed at the level of our organic law. The space for my column will not be enough. Suffice it to say, the perceived truth that our Constitution is stable and sufficient must be seen from the lens of progress and development. Are we better governed compared to our neighbors?  Are we able to select the best among the good leaders that can selflessly guide the nation towards economic growth and political maturity?

If I were to use, as evidence or objective proof, the fact that more than 20 million of our countrymen still struggle to enjoy freedom from hunger, live in decent housing, avail of the simplest medical assistance and be equipped with the most elementary education, then I would argue that our Constitution is remiss in its mission to make the lives of Filipinos better.

Remember, there are at least 1.9 million overseas Filipino workers who chose to take their chances in foreign lands despite the potential physical harm and cultural adjustments. They have to endure the typical problems that confront them such as homesickness, separation from their loved ones, family problems and, at times, issues on their contracts. Take note, majority of our OFWs are women. We have witnessed almost countless cases of sexual abuses committed against them.

Our more than 10 million agricultural workers and their families are still amongst the poorest in the country. Again, as I mentioned before, becoming a farmer or a fisherman in the Philippines is synonymous to being chained to poverty, deprived of stable source of income, almost always poorly educated, vulnerable to the onslaught of natural calamities and perhaps perpetually resigned that their fate, as well as the future of their children, is bleak and has no chance of improving.

Changing our Constitution is not the panacea for all our failings and dilemma as a nation. It is not the cure-all formula that will resolve the vicious cycle that virtually trapped us. But it can be the key that can unlock the series of solutions that may finally end decades of economic downturns and political setbacks. Let’s have an open mind on this possibility. Truth, in this case, is clear.

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