‘By all means, let’s revisit the Constitution. But let’s do it after the May 2022 elections. For the next 12 months before the campaign period for 2022 begins, let’s just keep focused on the pandemic that we have yet to get under control.’
IN 1987, the Philippines was confronted with a choice: approve a new Constitution or face political limbo. It was a stark choice that should not have been put to the people. But partisan politics made it happen.
You see, a year before, Ferdinand Marcos was ousted due to a confluence of events, including a critical intervention by the United States when it airlifted the Marcos family out of Malacanang and on to Hawaii. The People Power Revolution led to a major effort to de-Marcosify the Philippines – from the removal of all duly elected public officials and their replacement by OICs, and the junking of the 1973 Philippine Constitution, as amended. Cory Aquino abolished the parliament (Batasan) and decided to rule by decree. And one of her decrees created a Constitutional Commission whose members she handpicked, and who then proceeded to draft a Constitution to replace the Marcos-era one.
A “democratic revolution” resulted in moves that demonstrated complete distrust of the people. Sh** happens.
Together with two fellow UP Law students, I engaged in one public (televised) debate in 1987, arguing that the proposed Constitution be rejected in a plebiscite and that we return instead to the 1935 Constitution. It was a debate our side is said to have “won,” although the result of the plebiscite was a foregone conclusion. Overwhelmingly the Filipino people ratified the draft, and that is now the Constitution that political actors are seeking to revise.
I have no argument that the Charter needs to be revisited. But I am staunchly against the idea of pushing for this effort between today and May 2022 when we are supposed to go to the polls and vote for the successor to President Duterte. Rushing a review of the Constitution of the Republic and putting it to a vote by the people within the next 24 months – at a time of the pandemic – is to do the sovereign people a great disservice.
It also is going to taint any resulting document as a slipshod product, rushed to benefit the incumbents.
One doesn’t treat the writing of a Constitution this way.
Which is why I repeat my suggestion: schedule the review of the Constitution after the May 2022 elections. Give this task to a Constitutional Convention, whose members are to be elected by the people. Give the Convention a target: finish a charter by January 2025 at the earliest. If we shoot for January 2025, the people can vote to approve or reject the draft in May 2025 and maybe even target the effectivity of the new Constitution three years hence. So we can allow the president elected in 2022 to be the transition president if we choose to change the presidential form of government we currently have.
Nothing is rushed; people are given enough time to study and comment on drafts, out of respect for their sovereign power.
As for specific provisions, I have a few to propose: 1. Ban the family members of the President and Vice President from holding elective public office; 2. Elect a President-Vice President ticket and do away with split voting. 3. Require a 50%+1 threshold for a winning ticket to be declared outright winners; failing that a runoff must be held between the top two vote getters. 4 Maybe even remove from Congress certain powers, including the approval of franchises of any kind.
We cannot rush the deliberation of provisions such as these – and there are so many more that others are already proposing. Just like utmost care must be given to the deep foundations being dug in the ground for tomorrow’s skyscrapers, we need to be deliberate in the process of re-crafting a Constitution for the 21st Century.
By all means, let’s revisit the Constitution. But let’s do it after the May 2022 elections. For the next 12 months before the campaign period for 2022 begins, let’s just keep focused on the pandemic that we have yet to get under control.
Charter change NOW is not the solution that the people are desperately seeking to the scourge we call COVID-19.