Compromises on Charter revisions

Compromises on Charter revisions Featured

THERE is a good chance that the House of Representatives passes Rep. Rufus Rodriguez's House Bill 7352. Roughly this calls for revisions of the 1987 Cory Constitution through a constitutional convention (con-con). It may be noted that amendments and revisions come in three modes: people's initiative (PI); consultative assembly (con-ass), preferred by the Senate counterpart, chaired by Sen. Robinhood Padilla; and con-con. PI is out of consideration as this mostly refers to specific amendments. The other two call for revisions.

Con-ass, the preferred mode of Senator Padilla hews close to the desire of the Senate to input directly into the constitutional revisions. Although it has been touted that only the economic provisions are to be revised, once the 1987 Constitution is touched, all bets are off. There is the temptation to go for structural-political reforms. The vested interests will get into the act, to protect and enhance their prerogatives. The oligarchy and the political dynasties that have been riding herd on the economic and political life of the nation will continue to influence the changes in the constitution.

Con-ass vs con-con

Con-ass will involve the members of the Senate and the House jointly revising the Constitution. But with political dynasties and allies of the oligarchy dominating 80 percent of both houses, the finished product could be highly flawed. Also, protection of the Senate's status is their priority. Note that in the American presidential-federal system, two senators are voted each by the states; thus, their Senate is composed of 100 senators. The mongrelized version was adopted by the Philippines where 24 senators together with the president of the Republic are elected universally.

The third option, con-con, as proposed by Representative Rodriguez could be the better alternative, provided a combination of elected delegates is balanced with the appointed 50 percent chosen delegates. The reason behind this is a pragmatic reading of our election system. Most of those that will be elected delegates would be the moneyed ones, members of political dynasties whose clans and family interests take precedence. The Rodriguez argument behind the chosen appointed constitutional experts is that the marginalized sectors — who could never afford to win an electoral campaign, can counter and balance these dynasts — and give the progressive agenda a chance to be debated.

Economic provisions

Both houses of the legislature and even the President himself has signified that only the economic provisions in the Constitution need revisions. The series of columns I wrote was an attempt to present a case against this myopic appreciation of what ails the country. Our basic argument is that the systemic anomalies embedded in the three Philippine Constitutions (1935, 1973 and 1987) are the root causes and that the current initiatives to revise the Constitution are simply applying remedial treatments to the symptoms. Thus, revisions of only the economic provisions will merely be applying palliatives. And more dangerously, this will give a false sense of accomplishments — pagbabago, a patina of reforms, cosmetic changes — while the underlying systemic anomalies remain untouched.

1987 Article XII

Both the Senate and House are in agreement that Article XII of the 1987 Constitution contains restrictive economic provisions that prevent foreign direct investments (FDI) from pouring into the country. Representative Rodriguez and Senator Padilla are one in pronouncing that the 60-40 percent ownership provisions on Sections 2, 10 and 11, respectively, on land ownership, on investments and on public utilities, discourage foreign investors to build business in the country.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that over the years, the inability of the Philippines to attract FDIs are mainly why we are now where we are — the tailender among the economies in Asia; when we were No. 2 to Japan, post- World War 2. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (central bank) data show an accelerated dismal drop of FDI pre-pandemic of 23.2 percent decline in 2022 compared to 2021 and 76.2 percent drop year-end 2022. Senator Padilla was quoted as saying that the country needs "drivers of growth including opening up the economy to more FDI."

The Foreign Chambers of Commerce, champions of market economy and of globalization, simply want the removal of all economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution and regulate industries via laws passed by Congress. The all-encompassing proviso to be inserted in the revised constitution of 2023 — "unless otherwise provided by law" or "as may be defined by law" to "each and every one of the [new] economic provisions" — simple, elegant, beautiful and dangerous.

To digress, this phrase has already been inserted in many provisions of the 1987 Constitution. A glaring example is the constitutional provision banning political dynasties — an evil in the political structure of the country that allows a monopoly of political power within a democracy.

Article II, Section 26 provides that "the state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law." Our Congress, composed of 80 percent dynasts, refused to enforce the constitutional ban through that phrase "unless otherwise provided by law." Perhaps, we need to examine clearly whose interests are being served.

Clearly revisions of the 1987 Constitution can't be confined only to the economic provisions — and more particularly, can't be left to the current Senate and House alone. Indeed there are progressive and right-thinking senators and congressmen but the centuries-old political system and our method of governance have so perverted our concepts of democracy, republicanism and sense of justice that we should be wary of who will tinker with our saligang batas, the Constitution.

Constitution of 2023

The ideal compromise in these constitutional revisions may be to disallow the members of the Senate and House to tinker with the Constitution via the Robinhood's con-ass. On the other hand, Rodriguez's con-con may be the right path provided the following compromises are put in place:

Allow a universal election for delegates, but disallow ex-members of the two chambers, the party lists and their relatives up to a certain degree of consanguinity from running as delegates. We don't want dynasts to be part of their own restructuring. It is oxymoronic!

And in this hybrid con-con, who does the appointing of the 50 percent delegates? The president could appoint but these people must be known qualified experts in the constitution making or at least those recommended by organizations and men and women of probity; NGOs, civil society, academe, political parties, fellowship of business, professionals and community leaders, like the Rotary, Jaycees and Lion's Clubs, etc.? The devil truly is in the details. So far, the Rodriguez committee hasn't been clear on these.

And more importantly, after the new constitution is ratified, the delegates who authored the new constitution of 2023 should be prevented from running for any elected office for a prescribed period.

The crafting of this new constitution on the carcasses of the old constitutions runs full circle. Marcos pere once attempted it in 1973, which his nemesis then proceeded to abrogate, fashioning the 1987 document. Both failed. The 2023 Constitution could be BBM's legacy, finally healing the wounds of the past, but more importantly, thrust the country toward where it should belong. Among the developing economies in Asia.

 

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