It seems that President Rodrigo Duterte in the eyes of Filipinos can do no wrong.
We also suffer that most peculiar American religion, “President-worship”. Some Filipinos actually believe that the President was “chosen” by God to bring judgement to an unfaithful people.
The President spoke recently about charter change, but it is quite difficult to understand the exact meaning of this statement, “Kaya it’s not for me, in my generation, somebody else’s. But you should change the Constitution actually. Not for anything. If you do not want federalism, fine. But change the Constitution that would really change this nation. Sabihin ko sa inyo.”
Or this statement which he conveyed to the incoming leaders of the House of Representatives, “We have to change the Constitution, whether federal or whatnot”.
The President here does not seem fully committed to the notion of charter change. But at the same time, he appears to be challenging his followers in Congress to pursue it in the soonest time possible.
Should we then expect the call for the convening of a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) in his coming State of the Nation Address? Maybe.
The President can still be dissuaded by his economic team’s argument that charter change can put a stop to the country’s economic growth trajectory. He can still be convinced by the proposition that legislative reforms, specifically on establishing greater local autonomy, is even more attainable and less disruptive.
Worthy to note that as per the framers, local autonomy under the 1987 Constitution means─“a kind of maximum decentralization, short of federalization”. This description of how local autonomy is to be understood in the charter denotes that our decentralization framework can approximate a federal set-up.
In fact, Article X has provisions that actually exhibit features of a federal system. Giving support to the observation by federalism scholars that we already have a quasi-federal set-up under the current charter.
Nevertheless, while the President’s desire to proceed with charter change cannot be relied upon as set in stone, prudence dictates that Filipinos should start preparing for the possibility of going through a constitutional revision process very soon.
The most important fact to bear in mind is that the Constitution prescribes the modes of revision but leaves it to the drafting body to devise the mechanics of the writing process itself.
In this regard, it must be emphasized that railroading the process will only result to a new constitution having no legitimacy at all. Hence, Filipinos cannot simply leave constitutional reform in the hands of politicians.
The infamous Resolution of Both Houses No. 15, a draft charter created by the HOR under the auspices of former Speaker Gloria Arroyo, is a warning that cannot be ignored.
Dynastic politicians will not hesitate to hijack charter change to perpetuate themselves in their positions of power. And the only way to keep this mob in check is for Filipinos to be actively and intelligently engaged every step of the way.
NEED FOR TRANSPARENCY, PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
Given that the Con-Ass is comprised entirely of politicians, in determining the rules and procedures of the drafting process, transparency is vital. It is imperative that they be properly published beforehand and easily accessible to the public.
Moreover, all proceedings by the drafting body must be open to the public. The media must have full access to records and papers related to the drafting process. The key point here is that there should be complete and absolute transparency from day one.
The participation of the people in drafting the new constitution is critical as well. Again, the depth of involvement of the community in the writing process directly impacts the legitimacy of the end product.
Therefore, public consultations must be conducted. Preferably giving priority to the farthest areas of the country. Moreover, there must be mechanisms that will allow the public to submit proposals to the drafting body as well as be heard during sessions.
The drafting body must likewise put up a website wherein updates on the working draft and the writing process are posted. Allowing the public to comment on the progress of the draft itself in matters of substance and style.
Ostensibly, the drafting body is expected to engage the assistance of constitution-drafting experts. Definitely, the new constitution should not have an utterly ridiculous provision like Article XVI, Section 10:
“The State shall provide the policy environment for the full development of Filipino capability and the emergence of communication structures suitable to the needs and aspirations of the nation and the balanced flow of information into, out of, and across the country, in accordance with a policy that respects the freedom of speech and of the press.”
After the final version of a working draft is determined by the drafting body, there should be a sufficient period allotted for public debates. This time will be very important because this is where the draft of the new constitution will emerge.
And when the final draft is done, there should also be an appropriate amount of time to allow the public to reflect on it. The peoples’ minds must be clear when they decide to enact or to reject the new constitution in the plebiscite.
It cannot be emphasized enough that we want the new constitution to be more reflective of the times and responsive to the needs of all Filipinos. Therefore, we must be ready to be actively and directly involved in the drafting process. Indeed, we should already be ardently preparing intelligent and coherent proposals as to what the new constitution should contain.
Sadly, all this talk about using martial law or a revolutionary government to push charter change only heightens the fear that this undertaking will only benefit the political elites and oligarchs. The 1973 Constitution and the years that followed are indeed painful and terrifying reminders.
If the President truly envisions charter change as an initiative to improve the lives of Filipinos, then he must ensure that it is done the right way. First, he must wield his almost god-like allure amongst Filipino political elites to prevent them from railroading the constitutional revision effort. Second, he must use his record-breaking popularity to rally the people to actively participate in the drafting process.
We simply cannot allow a repeat of what happened in the 1971 Constitutional Convention and the 1986 Constitutional Commission. We do not want to wake up and deal with another constitutional dictator and even more political dynasties.
Michael Henry LI. Yusingco, LL.M, is a non-resident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government.