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Monday, January 23, 2006

Under A Microscope: Con-Com Charter

Life has a way of transforming the idealism of youth to a more jaded but practical nature. I have forgotten who taught me that nation-states are like people--- they have phases of growth yet it is none-the-less important. And now our nation is on the threshold of adulthood.

The 1987 Constitution is an idealistic document full of hope and promise. In my previous posts, I have always said that at hindsight, it has served this country well. Yet who could have imagined the 21st century in 1987? No one. As we march forward into the future, it is my personal opinion that the 1987 Constitution is ill equip to bring us forward. It is above all a moment for us, as a people, as a nation not to disregard the past. In fact it is high time we build on it, unashamed by the lessons that brought us--- Marcos, Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and to this crossroad in our nation's history and put our history into proper perspective and set our course, finally straight and steady.

Mrs. Arroyo through her Consultative Commission on Charter Change has proposed a charter--- in a nutshell moving the Philippines from its Presidential, Bicameral system to a unicameral Parliament and more importantly makes changes to the charter by including a Bill of Duties for every Citizen and balances their rights with responsibilities. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism blog has prepared a matrix (here for their post and discussion) of the 1987 Constitution and the Con-Com Charter, of which highlights their similarities and differences.

So the great debate has begun and our question is, does the Charter as proposed by the Consultative Commission meet the requirements of the future?

Let us begin with the the proposed preamble: We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to establish a Government that shall embody our ideals, promote the general welfare, conserve and develop the patrimony of our nation, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of democracy under a regime of justice, peace, liberty, and equality, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.”

Though the phrases “and aspirations, independence, under the rule of law, truth, freedom, love” have been omitted--- this version still represents what I believe is the hopes and dreams of our people with one exception. The phrase “a just and humane society” must not be removed from it because that with the exception of the Filipino's faith in God, and our people's desire for prosperity aptly describes our aspirations, hopes and dreams.

While the Bill of Rights is largely unchanged, one important and notable change is section 4 which reads: No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the Government for redress of grievances.” The word, “responsible” before exercise can not be found in the 1987 Constitution. A curbing of the freedom of speech is a sore subject because of our history. To many, such subtle change is a danger sign, particularly to those who have enjoyed unrestrained freedom of speech. And will spark much debate because it could mean that the government shall have power to suppress this all too important right.

The word “responsible” means to be held accountable. Of course this could mean differently in legal-speak. A lawyer would probably have to explain that and without knowing the reasons why they included the words, it would be hard pressed for us to construe it. However, the lack of responsibility by Filipinos everywhere is at the bottom line of this. It is so hard to get along that it is rather tempting for people just simply set aside democracy.

One of the more important to me that this proposed charter has is its “Bill of Duties”. It goes hand in hand with the whole concept of responsible democracy i guess that this charter is proposing. To me, our society has become a place where laws are made into suggestions rather than enforced. An example is our traffic code, where people break the red light every day or jaywalk all the time. This Bill of Duties is telling us what the Filipino's responsibility is to the Republic. About time, if you ask me.

And all this kind of reminds me of that JFK speech does come to mind though... ask not what your country can do for you... ask what you can do for your country...

Upon reading this proposed constitution, one can conclude that it is a retouch of the 1987 Constitutional provisions in just about everything. This includes provisions on Social Justice, Autonomous Territories, Family, etc. The Congress in this proposal is transformed in to a Parliament and the Cabinet is formed from members of the Cabinet and the president remains Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. It is the house of representatives writ large and without the senate and therein lies the first problem.

The house of representatives, today with pork barrel, is perceived to be corrupt. Whether they are or not is up to the proper channels to determine, but the whole point is that if this system today is flawed, what more when it becomes the sole chamber with legislative as well as executive powers. After reading this article on Parliament, I must repeat my comments/opinion from a previous post--- I don't like this proposal. This Parliament is essentially the same as the House of Representatives, what we today.

Let us discuss the proposal for Federalism. To put it bluntly, it is just being dangled as a half-offered matter that our people will forget in a few years. Its not even required. It is just an option: (quoted from the proposed Transitory Provisions, section 15) Within one year and after at least sixty percent of the provinces, highly urbanized cities and component cities of the country shall have joined in the creation of different autonomous territories, upon petition of majority of such autonomous territories through their respective regional assemblies, the Parliament shall enact the basic law for the establishment of a Federal Republic of the Philippines, whereby the autonomous territories shall become federal states”.

This proposal is a retouch of the 1987 Constitution albeit having minor tweaks in the other articles and the change from Congress to Parliament. It doesn't answer the question of tomorrow but raises the question of the intent of the proponents. More than ever, I am convinced that Charter Change is an answer to our political turmoil but not this proposed Charter. It lacks vision. Like the 1987 Constitution, bloated with too many detailed idealistic ideas--- stuff on family, on science and technology on so many other things that shouldn't be there, that instead should be made into law should we chose it to be.

I am for charter change yet this proposed charter I'm convinced, reeks with compromise that doesn't benefit people, rather its proponent's hidden agenda. It doesn't even addresses Federalism properly, which I personally believe will help as it gives the future to the hands of people for better or their worst. This proposed Charter has one good point, and that is its proposed Bill of Duties. I am convinced that there should be a Convention rather than an Assembly to discuss these issues. It may take five years for a Convention to prepare a constitution but done right, we wouldn't be doing this again, not for a long while. And maybe just maybe, we will give the future to the hands of people after all its time to move away from the status quo of our feudalism.