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‘Voters mostly illiterate, need tutor on Cha-cha’

A PALACE official said Thursday that most Filipino voters are illiterate and need to be educated before they can properly decide on Charter change.

In a radio interview, Chief Presidential Counsel Salvador Panelo returned to a point he made during a Senate hearing on Charter change on Wednesday.

“If Filipinos cannot understand or are not educated because a majority of our voters are illiterate, then we need to give them a formal education before we change the Constitution,” he said in Filipino. “Otherwise they will end up voting without understanding.”

Panelo said it was irrelevant how the Constitution is amended because in the end, it is the people who have the final say through a plebiscite.

President Rodrigo Duterte and his political allies in Congress want to amend the Constitution to shift the country to a federal form of government.

Eleven members of the commission that drafted the 1987 Constitution said Charter change and federalism would not solve the country’s

problems.

In an open letter, they said acknowledged that the Constitution was not perfect, but key questions needed to be answered before amendments are introduced.

The letter was signed by Felicitas Aquino-Arroyo, Adolfo Azcuna, Teodoro Bacani, Florangel Rosario Braid, Hilario Davide Jr., Edmundo Garcia, Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Christian Monsod, Ricardo Romulo, Jaime Tadeo, and Bernardo Villegas.

“Before we move further into uncharted territory, the prior question seems to us, to be: Do we need a new Constitution at this time? Is federalism the answer to address the critical concerns of our people? What in fact are our priorities?”

They said the “undiscerning haste” to create a new Constitutions would distract the nation from its priorities such as solving mass poverty and inequality, eliminating political dynasties and addressing the blatant disregard for the rule of law.

They also said that the Constitution “is not the problem” but part of the solution.

Instead of amending the Constitution right away, they said, the Local Government Code could be amended to further decentralize power and allocate resources more fairly.

They also warned that federalism could result in a bloated bureaucracy and “reinforce the power of political dynasties and landed elites.”

Also on Friday, retired chief justice Reynato Puno said the provisions of the Constitution can be interpreted in different ways, but these must be consistent with the intent and spirit of the Charter.

In an interview on the GMA News program Unang Balita, Puno also said it was important to take individual provisions in the context of the entire document.

For example, he said, the issue of whether the two chambers of Congress should vote jointly or separately on constitutional amendments must be taken in the context of the Charter’s establishment of a bicameral legislature.

In his opinion, he said, this meant the House and Senate should vote separately.

The dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law, meanwhile, said the Supreme Court can break the deadlock on joint or separate voting.

“It is a justiciable question because it calls for an interpretation of the Constitution. This is the dividing line,” Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, also vice president of Cagayan State University and Manila Standard columnist, said in an interview on radio dzMM.

Asked if Congress should vote jointly or separately, he said: “Separately. Very clear for me.”

“The presence of the Senate is useless if you say voting jointly. What is the use of a bicameral legislature if one chamber is useless?” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Puno had said Tuesday that he believed the Supreme Court could not intervene because the issue was a political one.

Topics: Charter change
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