Filipinos Must Own Charter Change Process
- Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco
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A majority of the Filipino population are still not behind Charter change, and this has always energized opposition against this initiative. Notably, there’s former chief justice Hilario Davide Jr., who claims the 1987 Constitution is “the best for our country and our people not just of this generation but even for generations yet unborn,” and thus does not need any amendment.
However, there is an obstacle to Charter change that is more fundamental than the views of those who oppose it: Pulse Asia’s nationwide survey on Charter change in June 2018 revealed that 75 percent of respondents said they had little or “almost none or no knowledge at all” of the 1987 Constitution.
In the context of constitutional reform, this finding poses a huge problem. How can any reform process ever be truly robust when there is a glaring disconnect between majority of Filipinos and the 1987 Constitution?
As the administration actively pushes for Charter change, the bitter and painful memories of how the 1973 Constitution was ratified compels respect for a very important requirement. In order to produce an accurate and truly legitimate outcome, the reform process must involve the ardent participation of the people themselves.
Therefore, an indispensable precondition of constitutional reform in the Philippines is a widespread and substantial public consultation process. And, given the reality that three out of four Filipinos know very little about the current Charter, a key element of this process must be a back-to-basics education on the 1987 Constitution.
For this particular approach, the President can commission law schools to assume the lead role. This is certainly a daunting imposition, but warranted nonetheless under the Volunteer Act of 2007. The education sessions can be undertaken via the barangay assembly apparatus. Note that by statutory mandate, the barangay is also a “forum wherein the collective views of the people may be expressed, crystallized and considered.”
The detailed mechanics of the education sessions themselves shall be the responsibility of each law school involved. But the core syllabus must cover two stages. The first one is a remedial class reviewing two basic components of the Constitution: (1) responsibilities of each branch of government and the constitutional offices; and (2) rights and obligations of citizens.
The second stage is an open forum to be guided by these questions: “(1) Is there a need to amend or revise the Constitution? Why or why not? (2) If so, what parts of the Constitution should be amended or revised? Why?”
At the end of the sessions, each barangay assembly must produce a position paper answering these questions, which shall then be formally endorsed to Congress to be utilized as resource materials.
The first half of 2019 can be used for the nationwide constitutional education phase. The barangay assembly position papers can be formally endorsed during the State of the Nation Address in July. Congress can thereafter focus on the revision process, as guided by the barangay assembly submissions, until the end of the year.
The fact is, constitutional reform in the Philippines must now be given serious consideration. Some Charter provisions, while they may have been designed with good intentions, have become debilitating to the political system. But Filipinos must be actively and intelligently engaged in this process every step of the way.
More importantly, the now infamous Resolution of Both Houses No. 15 is a warning that cannot be ignored. Dynastic politicians will not hesitate to hijack Charter change to perpetuate themselves in their positions of power. The only way to keep this mob in check is for Filipinos to take ownership of the constitutional reform process.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a law lecturer, legislative and policy consultant and a nonresident research fellow at the Ateneo Policy Center of the Ateneo School of Government. This commentary first appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer.