Why change the constitution now? Is it the right time to change it? These questions are probably the most instinctive of questions asked the moment charter change is discussed or considered by any sitting President or by any political leader. We will never be able to reflect on the significance of public institutions and the need to change if we can’t get past the question of timing. This question prevents the understanding of the significance of political systems, of institutions and mechanisms. Timing should be considered more as any opportunity to change what needs to be changed. Any leader who vigorously pushes it should be supported, especially with the objective of making sure that everyone is able to take part and contribute. In the first place, there is no answer to the question of time, especially that the main considerations for it are always given, as it is essentially a political question.
The fact that timing is always raised as an issue in fact shows the need to take a really close look at our public institutions; it shows that reforms should be introduced before it is too late. Timing is always an issue because we barely trust our leaders. How can we trust our leaders if good leaders are chosen only by chance? The existing political system is limited only to those who are popular and have the money to sustain a very expensive popular campaign. How many of these popular and moneyed would-be leaders prove to be capable and trustworthy? Qualifications in the first place barely matter or considered, as precisely the choices are limited. You can very well surmise that those who are consistently against changing the current system benefit from it that it is difficult to consider any substantial reform to be introduced.
Self-interest is the foremost reason used to explain the issue of timing, and the answer to it is simply another question, who doesn't have self-interest in the first place? Politics is precisely aptly defined as “who gets what, when where and how..?” Self-interest is a given, it is not something that cannot be taken out of the equation. In fact, there shouldn't even be any effort to take it out of the equation. Self-interest is what makes the idea of freedom and popular participation relevant to everyone. The very reason why there is dissent or assent is self-interest. Anyone pushing for any initiative will have self-interest, as will the ones opposing any initiative.
The point is not to prevent self-interest, not even to judge one person or group to only have self-interest in pushing for whatever in any given occasion or opportunity including pushing for charter change. This can in fact be considered as the densest most desperate reason that can be raised. On the contrary, what should be ensured is to have everyone’s self-interest considered and ensured that a new system can contain these and produce a veritable output and outcome that can be acceptable to most. Acceptable to everyone is ideal but is quite a long shot. It is such a pity when any well-meaning individual takes part in this initiative to finally reform our current ineffective political system and dismissed by some as being a tool or being self-interested himself.
It is thus not surprising to always find a good number of well-meaning individuals to contribute without hesitation in the pursuit of political and governmental reforms regardless of who is in power. We have seen many during the time of former Presidents FVR, Erap and GMA, each presidency seen by these individuals as an opportunity to change the current system. Opportunity that is so critical as there has been so many unsuccessful attempts before that didn't succeed. There were in fact a good number of structural reforms successfully introduced in all presidencies after the end of the dictatorship, indicating a good understanding of how institutions matter, but all came short of being far-reaching. All of these reforms came only by legislation, by policies and programs that most of these reforms simply could not be implemented or could not be implemented effectively. The point that is shown then is that is not so much about the right policies and programs but more in terms of effective public institutions in place.
Why support charter change under President Duterte, given his ways that is a significant departure from all previous presidents? Is it not precisely this different way that is the very reason why the public continues to support him? We don’t even have to base it on his person; we should not in fact base our support only on his person. Compared to all previous presidents who pushed for system change, who could have pushed it as vigorously as he is doing now? He has been doing it from day one as he has been talking about it incessantly during his campaign. As a result there has never been a more critical and detailed discussion of systems and forms of government than we have now. Then we can understand why support for charter change has been more because of the support to him as a person. The objective is to contribute substantively, not just simply supporting the initiative without understanding.
This brings up the other reason that is often used to support the issue of timing. Charter change apparently, should be considered only after pressing problems like poverty is solved. Interestingly, the very reason why charter change is being pursued is the critical need to put in place a better set of public institutions ran by more capable leaders in order to have a better handle of the country’s development and ultimately better address the problem of poverty. The country has constantly struggled to find the right mix of policies and or programs only to perform considerably behind many other developing countries. How many similarly situated countries have now left us behind only after a generation? And we will always hear the argument that it is a matter of implementation that we have been constantly lagging behind. Precisely the reason why we have to revise the constitution is to zero in on the problem of implementation, caused by none other than a non-functioning, even non-existent political system.
This piece originally appeared on the author's blog. Follow him on Twitter @edtayao.