Towards a new Constitution

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    ‘Every time a proposal to tinker with the Constitution is made so close to the end of term of a President, the process becomes suspicious.’

    THERE are two ways to look at the proposal of Senators Francis Tolentino and Ronald dela Rosa for Congress to work as a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of proposing amendments to the Philippine Constitution.

    The amendments, the two gentlemen tell us, will be focused on doing away with the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Charter, those that, for example, prohibit non-Filipinos from owning certain things, like land and some businesses. Maybe I should say “from directly owning” because we all were not born yesterday and know that dummies exist to allow foreigners to skirt this Constitutional prohibition.

    Their proposal has found an echo in the Lower House where Speaker Lord Allan Velasco has taken steps to begin similar deliberations for the same reason: economic provisions.

    And the Senate President, in his infinite wisdom, has issued a statement saying that Charter change or “Cha-Cha” steps being taken are not meant to keep President Duterte in office beyond July 2022, (who was thinking that???) but are targeted at the Commies. At the Commies!! Hmm. I think what the SP here means is that mainland Chinese businessmen will not be allowed to benefit from relaxed foreign ownership provisions — because they’re Communists.

    So there.

    But going back to the Tolentino-Bato tandem, I think we can look at their proposal from two angles: one is the angle of timetable, and the other angle is on the essence of their proposals. And this is how I see it.

    On one hand, I think the essence is right but the timetable is wrong. This Charter, which was drawn up in 1986 on the heels of a People Power Revolution, was much too “reactionary” to then-recent developments and thus emerged from a process that was far more emotional than it should have been. One can even take issue from the fact that the draft of the Charter was authored by 50 men and women handpicked by then President Cory Aquino, rather than by men and women from the legislature sitting as a Constituent Assembly (but she had abolished the legislature) or elected by the public at large. So yes, this Charter deserves a once over.

    But the timetable is off. Every time a proposal to tinker with the Constitution is made so close to the end of term of a President, the process becomes suspicious. And no “assurance” from a Senate President can ever allay those suspicions. (We weren’t born yesterday.)

    And when a process as important as Constitutional change becomes hobbled by suspicions, the process is poisoned.

    On the other hand, why only tinker with the economic provisions? Why not review the matter of government structure and once and for all evaluate the pros and cons of a less-centralized structure? This, of course, is assuming that Tolentino, Bato and Velasco (plus Sotto) can, will or will want to prevent colleagues from putting forward a proposal to abolish term limits of the very people voting on the provisions. Not to mention that of the President himself.

    And because plugging in a proposal to abolish term limits could very well be the case – and any debate about it is a valid matter to debate in a democracy – all the more is the timetable off. You don’t rush something like that with less than 16 months to the next elections. Not when certificates of candidacies are scheduled to be filed by October and parties are already beginning to feel their way towards alliances.

    Here’s a proposal I’ve made before and I make again: why not elect in 2022 together with the President and VP and half the Senate and Congressmen etc. a Constitutional Convention, which will be given a mandate of drafting a new Charter by 2025 at the latest, to be implemented in 2028? Or if the timetable can be fast tracked, to be implemented by 2025? In this manner the deliberations will be immune from the pressures of a presidential term that is coming to an end, and less subject to suspicions that the purpose is less noble than what is being press released.

    So why not Cha-Cha beginning 2022 and a new Charter by 2025?