It’s time for a Constitutional review


    ‘(A) review will result (maybe I am being hopeful here) in ordinary citizens taking time to actually read the Charter and understanding it better. What it stands for. What principles jump out of its pages, and why.’

    IF my counting is right – and I did poorly at math back at UP – we have less than 700 days before we elect the 17th President of the Philippines. My count includes non-Republic presidents: Aguinaldo, Quezon, Osmena and Laurel, and I make this clear lest someone say I don’t really know how to count.

    In those 700 days there is so much to do: clean up this virus that continues to plague the country despite broadcasts from the Department of Health that go against actual case numbers; get the economy back on track and help stop the bleeding in terms of 7.5 million job losses and counting; adjust to what I term the “new abnormal” and see how this impacts every aspect of the life of every Filipino – from the newly born to the newly dead, actually; oh, and just as important, start evaluating those who will begin to offer themselves as the appropriate successor to Rodrigo Roa Duterte.

    I cannot seem to shake out of my head the oft-repeated statements by PRRD that he would like to give up the Presidency and just return to Davao and live a quiet life. With less than 700 days to go in his term, and with still so much to do, the time left in his term can go by like a flash and soon before he knows it he will be the fifth living ex-President of the Philippines, perhaps the biggest number we’ve ever had.

    But there’s one more thing I’d like to cite as an important thing to focus on in the next 700 days, and this is the need to review the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines. Note that I do not say “revise.” I say “review.” Because a review may bring us to the conclusion that there is nothing to revise. Best to keep our options open on that.

    Actually, there are two reasons why we need to review the Constitution.

    The first is for purposes of checking whether the provisions drafted in the aftermath of the 1986 People Power revolution are still relevant in the aftermath of the 2020 COVID-19 infection. Those of us who are old enough will remember that one vote determined that the Philippines will continue to have a Presidential form of government rather than a parliamentary form. It is not a bad thing to review that in the light of our 1987-2020 experience and decide whether we want to keep it that way.

    In 1987 we also decided to ban nuclear power, include “Love” in the Constitution, and create a PCGG. Should we keep these or is there reason to change our minds? Again, matters a review can touch upon.

    But there’s a second reason to do a review, just as important: a review will result (maybe I am being hopeful here) in ordinary citizens taking time to actually read the Charter and understanding it better. What it stands for. What principles jump out of its pages, and why.

    Even this: why is a Constitution written not just with the language in which it is written, but also in the order it is written? Why, for example, do we talk about Congress before we talk about the Executive, and the Executive before the Judiciary? And why do we talk about the Bill of Rights even before we talk about the three branches of Government?

    Reading through the various pro- and con- posts on the Anti-Terror Law makes me feel that even among the citizens who charge each other with not reading the law they are supporting or opposing there is an even bigger problem: how many of them have even read the Constitution?

    You see, before you even read any law or regulation or ordinance, read the Constitution. Everything has to flow from what is written in the “basic law.” So if you know your Constitution by heart you can quickly evaluate a proposed law or ordinance the way an expert doctor can diagnose a patient just by a quick look-over, or an expert mechanic a car just by the sound of the engine or the chassis.

    In fact, contrary to what a party-list congressman may think, what makes you and I a Filipino is not what oath we memorize or even how many flags are embroidered (hopefully correctly, according to the Flag Law) on our shirt; it is the Constitution that determines whether you or I am a Filipino and, before I forget, it does not require you to memorize even a single provision by heart.

    But here’s the thing. I am suspicious of any efforts to push for a Constitutional review during the dying days of a Presidency. And we should not do it this way. To insist on doing it is to open the process to doubts about the intent (something very important in determining whether an act is a terrorist act or not, per Sec 4 of the ATL); Constitutional review is so important that we need to take political color out of it to the extent that we can.

    That’s why I propose this process for our Constitutional review: when we go to the polls in May 2022 we also elect a Constitutional Convention, who now have the next two, or even four or five years to work on a Constitution for the 22nd century. And when we return to the polls in 2025 or (as I prefer) in 2028, we can then usher in a new Constitution and, if so desired, a new form of Government. And no one would have been accused of trying to use Charter change as a means to stay in office longer.

    Are you ready for Constitutional review in this manner?