CALL it the first battleground in the push by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to amend the 1987 Constitution, a necessary step towards federalism.
Last month, now House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez talked with reporters about the charter change (chacha) plan of the new administration. “A Constitutional Convention would be very expensive and very long. A Constituent Assembly would be easier and less expensive but the President wants a Constitutional Convention so people don’t say it’s self-serving,” he said.
It turned out Alvarez was speaking too soon. In a press statement yesterday, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that Duterte now favors a Constituent Assembly (Con Ass) instead of a Con-Con to amend the Constitution. This means members of Congress would constitute themselves into a Con Ass and propose the amendments themselves.
This time around, the cost of holding an election for Con-Con representatives is being used as basis to favor Con Ass. The Duterte administration apparently wants to save the money that would be spent for the Con-Con polls to partly fund the coming Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections and the pay hike for Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel.
That Con Ass is self-serving, like what Alvarez previously said, has been forgotten. Or is being self-serving the intention?
The 1987 Constitution was crafted months after the 1986 Edsa People Power uprising that ousted Ferdinand Marcos and his dictatorship. Progressive thought was therefore prevalent at that time and the lessons of the Marcos dictatorship still fresh in the minds of the respected personalities that then president Corazon Aquino appointed to compose the Constitutional Commission (Con Com) that was tasked to draft the Charter.
The Con Com was headed by the late former Supreme Court justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma as president with former senator Ambrosio Padilla as vice president. Interestingly, it had a Cebuano, the late Napoleon Rama, as floor leader. The Con Com’s membership reflected the “rainbow coalition” of causes and political persuasions that was at the core of the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship.
I scrolled through the list of Con Com members posted in the website www.gov.ph and found two other respected Cebuano lawyer-politicians there, former SC chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. and the late Regalado Maambong, former Court of Appeals justice. I saw the religious like retired bishop Teodoro Bacani and Fr. Joaquin Bernas, businessmen like Roberto Concepcion, former senators like Blas Ople and Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, economists like Bernardo Villegas and even militants like the late Jaime Tadeo.
While the 1987 Constitution was not perfect, it was better than the previous charters in that many of its provisions were true to the spirit of the Edsa revolt.
This early, I would say that amending the Constitution via a Con Ass is worrisome. That proposal would invite a closer look of the membership of the current Congress. Is this the best group of legislators that this country has? Or can they compare with the members of Con Ass especially in terms of integrity?
Consider the House of Representatives. While it has its share of bright minds and respected personalities, it does not have the independence to craft constitutional amendments free from partisanship and politicking. The truth is that people see many of its members as a bunch of balimbings, a description that is not flattering. When Rodrigo Duterte won, they abandoned their parties and raced to Davao City to play sipsip to him. I don’t trust characters like these to craft constitutional amendments.
There is some hope in the current Senate with some independent-minded and intellectually capable members composing it. But the test of the pudding is in the eating. Can the senators withstand the eventual lobbying from Malacañang and other interest groups? That remains to be seen.
(firstname.lastname@example.org/ twitter: @khanwens)