IT was Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, who last Jan. 7 said they’d just “revisit and review” the 1987 Constitution. Only “specific and surgical changes” will be done, he said.
Since then, Congress leaders more powerful than Mercado have debunked the assurance. We don’t know how much of the corpus, or carcass, of the 1987 Constitution would remain intact after they’re done.
To be sure, what has come out so far is information in bits and pieces. One can’t be sure which will go into the draft that will be voted on by the constituent assembly. It can be for real or just a balloon sent aloft to try the wind of public opinion.
The preamble, declaration of principles and the bill of rights, which have been almost unscathed in the 1935, 1973 and 1987 constitutions, are being probed and would probably be scarred.
Heat and noise
These revisions are lightweight compared to the major overhaul of structure: shift to federalism, abolition of the vice president’s office and the office of the ombudsman, extension of term, removal of term limit and the dynasty ban. Yet they have generated heat and noise:
l On where sovereignty resides--”Sovereignty resides in the Filipino people through suffrage and all government authority, whether regional or federal, emanates from them.” Adding “through suffrage” will ban “people power,” critics say.
l On exercise of right to free speech and free press--”No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression or of the press...” Adding the phrase “responsible exercise,” critics say, would qualify the freedom.
l On “love” in the preamble--”We, the sovereign Filipino people.... under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.” They would delete the word love that they say has no place in the Constitution.
So they want people power scrapped, free speech and free press qualified, and love banished.
People power is not expressly prohibited. Bayan Muna former congressman Neri Colmenares thinks it is impliedly banned by qualifying “sovereignty” and “all government authority” with the phrase “through suffrage.”
Not many will agree with that. Suffrage is still the more basic and reliable means to express sovereignty. People power, brought about by a revolution, could misrepresent the sentiment of the majority. People power is an aberration that may be used to disguise a plain grab for power.
And people power is not something you put, like martial law, in a Constitution. It’s not a remedy the law must encourage. People power, if authentic, is the last means to topple a dictatorship when the force of the ballot fails. Besides, people power comes when it comes, whether any law allows it or not.
Responsibility is the twin precept of freedom. By tradition, strengthened in various rulings of the Supreme Court, free speech or free press is often limited by other freedoms. Laws on libel, contempt, inciting to sedition as well as compulsory disclosure of news sources when national security is involved: those and many others tell us that freedom is not absolute.
Adding “responsible exercise” is redundant and may even open to laws that abridge press freedom and freedom of speech. As former Senate President Nene Pimentel Jr. advises, don’t touch that.
If “truth, justice, freedom, equality and peace” can have their place in the Constitution, why can’t “love”?
The panel members led by Leyte Rep. Ching Veloso didn’t give anything more than the one dismissive line. They should read the closing speech of Cecilia Muoz-Palma, president of the 1986 Constitutional Commission. And refute the argument why they put “love” in there.