January 20, 2018, 6:52 pm
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Changing the Charter

NOW that Congress is about to resume session it seems that our legislators will be focused on Charter change.

That’s what one congressman told me when I bumped into him at the wake of Malaya publisher Jake Macasaet a few days ago.

From the time the American flag was lowered at the Luneta by Manuel Roxas, we’ve had a number of constitutions. There was the 1935, which we adopted to become the Constitution of the new Republic of the Philippines and which lasted until Ferdinand Marcos decided to change it, resulting in the 1973 Constitution which was the product of a Constitutional Convention. But the 1973 Constitution was not fully implemented as is because we empowered the President to continue ruling by decree, and so he did until his overthrow in 1986.

That’s when Cory Aquino called together 50 “wise” fellows to draft a new Charter and a year later we had a plebiscite that ratified the 1987 Constitution. I remember being a 24-year old student at UP who led the UP team in debating against the draft Constitution’s ratification. (Ateneo took the affirmative side).

One columnist writing about that debate said “the No wins the debate but the Yes will win the polls” and he was right.

I know of no plebiscite in this country that has ever resulted in a rejection of a proposal of the powers-that-be.

Which is why on the matter of drafting a new Charter to be submitted to the people for ratification, I am wary of the plan to convene both houses of Congress and convert them into a constituent assembly that will draft the proposed Charter. 

I would prefer that we go through the whole effort of electing a separate body - the Constitutional Convention - whose singular purpose is to draft a new Constitution. Just because I voted someone as my senator or congressman doesn’t mean that I would want him or her tinkering with the Charter, assuming already that he is qualified to do so!

It would also allow Congress to continue doing its job simultaneous with the Convention debating provisions of the proposed Law.

Not to mention the fact that some Charter provisions will touch on issues that are a matter of self-interest to a sitting legislator such as term limits and political dynasties. For these two reasons alone, I think we need a fresh batch of people elected to write the new Basic Law.

It’s been 31 years since I took the microphone on the stage of Malcolm Theater of the UP College of Law to argue why the “Cory Constitution” was too much of a reactionary document to be adopted as the new Philippine Constitution. Many of the reasons I used in arguing against ratification I still hold on to today. But they are not enough to convince me that rewriting the current Charter can be done in a haphazard manner - because that’s how I see it will be done if we leave this very important business in the hands of our legislators, no matter how esteemed they maybe.

On the issue of Charter change, it’s a Constitutional Convention for me.
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