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ld we amend the Constitution?

Publication Date : 28-08-2014

 

Should we amend the Philippine Constitution? Definitely yes. Should President Aquino get an extended term? Definitely no. Not because he doesn’t deserve it. Not because the country needs a continuance of his policies. Not because of any justification. He shouldn’t get it for one simple, immutable reason: Change in the Constitution is so important, so fundamental to the nation, that any change must be done with cold reason, dispassion, uninvolvement. No one involved in the change should personally benefit as that will color their decision. It must be prospective only, applying to those in the future.

You don’t change a Constitution to suit a particular moment, you do it to set the foundation of a society. If the Constitution is changed to give this leader a longer term, then the next leader will get it too—and he or she may be a bad leader you can’t get rid of for now even longer.

A Constitution is the lifeblood of a nation, you don’t play around with it to suit a political moment.

In fact, any change should probably be done through an elected constitutional convention if true independence of decision is to be achieved (although knowing how things work in this country, electing truly independent representatives would be a major task in itself).

The 1987 Constitution was a reactionary constitution developed in reaction to the excesses of the Marcos regime, and at a time when redeveloping a national identity overrode a need for balance. Consequently it ended up far too detailed when general policy and ideology are what a Constitution calls for. The confidence and recent success of the country have highlighted some of the weaknesses this has led to.

Everyone but everyone that matters recognises the reality of the global world today and that opening up the economy to a wholly level playing field can only benefit the people. China remains politically tightly controlled, but it went from poverty to wealth by opening its borders (and its economic sectors) to all who wanted to do business.

As to the political, I’ve long argued a parliamentary system may well suit the Philippine culture better, in what, I venture, would be a more democratic system. No feudal lord to dictate (an elected president is that in his unchallengeable term) but a first amongst equals chosen by those equals and as easily removed by those equals. And probably a federal system, given the uniqueness of so many of the societies in the Philippines and the archipelagic nature of the country. But we’d need better trained local officials, more honest too. What the local government of Cotabato did to a $6-billion investment, and what Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada did to business and the national economy give one reason to question the wisdom of a federal system.

Sadly it looks as though this subject was inadvertently brought to the public by a president who thinks and says his mind, as we all do, but in a front of a media always looking for the next headline. I don’t think he was seriously considering constitutional change as a new policy direction but just a thought to consider.

Unfortunately the exposure the media gave to it means he may be even more reluctant to go along with the call by so many to amend the economic, and economic only, provisions of the constitution. The one president who could effect that much-needed change. Again a reason why a presidency—at least Philippine-style—is not a good one.

One man can override the wishes of thousands more involved than him in a subject. Over 85 per cent of businessmen we surveyed want the economy fully opened up by constitutional change. What’s frightening though is that according to a Pulse Asia survey, more than half (61 percent) of Filipinos have not heard, read or watched anything about the resolution filed by Speaker Belmonte that would amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution. Worse, of the 39 per cent aware of the resolution, a huge 36 per cent was undecided.

The results of these surveys tell the President the bosses he says he represents are behind him if he supports the amendment of the economic provisions the Speaker has suggested. So his reluctance to support Belmonte’s resolution despite growing calls from the business groups and ordinary citizens could further affect his (declining) popularity and his political capital, for effecting needed reform in the remainder of his term.

Congress sees the wisdom of bringing in greater levels of investment and integrating the Philippines more into the world’s economy. As it now stands, the constitutional restrictions will make it difficult for the country to be part of the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement.

The Speaker’s solution is not what I’d want, and what should really be done, which is to properly bring the Constitution into the modern world. And to have it state general policy, not specific directives, as a constitution should. But doing that would be a Sisyphean task with little chance of success.

Belmonte’s solution is simple: Just add the words “unless otherwise provided by law.” Then whether we should really change them can be argued openly in the halls of Congress. One by one. The Left can have their day, and if they can convince their brethren they can maintain restrictions but at least each item could be argued as to its relevance today.

I see no fear of the discussion in Congress being hijacked into political change. Senate President Drilon and House Speaker Belmonte control enough majority and have made it clear they won’t have any part of it. The President needs to join them, and us.

 

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