Previous efforts to amend the Constitution has been met by scorn and outright distrust. And for good reason
By Joey Salgado
Every president since Fidel V. Ramos has tried to tinker with the 1987 Constitution, usually under the cover of a grand ambition that hides a self-serving motive. It’s an itch too tempting not to scratch.
The Executive is often seen as the hidden hand behind these moves, in Congress or through supposed people’s initiatives. The real agenda is to extend the incumbent’s term in office, fixed at six years with no re-election, and also the terms of legislators and local executives, fixed at three years with two re-elections. In the case of former president Duterte, he personally led the drive to amend the Constitution in order to shift to a federal form of government.
President Marcos Jr., on the other hand, has declared he is not interested in Charter Change. In an interview, the President said the country can attract foreign investors without amending the economic provisions of the Constitution, which is being presented as the objective behind the renewed push for charter revisions.
But the President’s allies in Congress are determined to pursue revisions. On February 20, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to revise the Constitution. It calls for the election of delegates in October to coincide with the barangay ang Sangguniang Kabataan polls. The last time a Convention was called was in 1971, for the purpose of amending the 1935 Constitution. The declaration of martial law scuttled the Convention’s work. Several delegates were arrested and jailed.
Reacting to the President’s public declaration of disinterest in revising the Constitution, several legislators went to the extent of reminding the Chief Executive, politely of course, that charter revision is the exclusive domain of Congress.
A country’s Constitution should not be regarded as a sacred document, impermeable to political, economic and social changes. The Constitution should be a dynamic, living document, to borrow a line from the late Fr. Joaquin Bernas, esteemed constitutionalist and a member of the Constitutional Commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution.
But previous efforts to amend the Constitution has been met by scorn and outright distrust. And for good reason. Legislators have tried, but so far failed, to insert amendments to political provisions, particularly the term limits imposed by the Charter.
During the Duterte administration, the shift to federalism was offered as a cure-all to chronic poverty and underdevelopment in the provinces. Shifting from a presidential to a federal form of government would, therefore, require amendments to the Constitution.
However, several draft resolutions were also introduced in Congress, according to media reports, proposing term extensions for congressmen and local officials while cutting short the terms of senators. Another resolution proposed the abolition of Congress and granting Duterte “law-making powers during the transitory period.” The latter is an example of how political ambition and sycophancy can muddle clear thinking.
Self-serving amendments only deepen mistrust in any effort to revise the Constitution, no matter how noble the intention or how pressing the need. Amending the 36-year old Constitution is a major undertaking that demands from its proponents not only sincerity and hard work, but the extra effort to earn the trust of a skeptical public. This is where it should start.
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