An official of the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) on Thursday appealed to the public to give Charter Change a chance.
Lawyer Dionisio Donato Garciano, Philconsa Vice President for Luzon, made the appeal as House of Representatives committee on constitutional amendments began on Thursday its initial public hearing on several measures to amend the 1987 Constitution.
“We must also give good intentions or give the benefit of the doubt to good intentions,” said Garciano, referring to measures filed in Congress on Charter Change.
“We must give this committee the benefit of the doubt in proposing amendments to the 1987 Constitution. This initiative is made with good intentions,” he added.
Garciano was among the legal luminaries and resource persons who took part during the initial deliberation on bills seeking to amend the existing Constitution in the current 19th Congress.
But House Deputy Minority Leader France Castro on Thursday recommended conducting a nationwide survey to see if most Filipinos want to amend the 1987 Constitution.
Castro said the citizenry’s participation is very important in the discussion of the constitutional changes.
“Before we go to the Chacha, can we do a general survey of the public to see if they really want it, before we continue with this matter,” Castro said.
She added that there was a lack of interest in the subject, even in the chamber.
“The participation of the people is important in Charter change or constitutional amendments because this is a fundamental law of the land. We need the participation of our people,” she added.
The committee, chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, maintained that the deliberations on Charter Change would not be rushed as “(charter change discussions) has been passed thoroughly in the past seven Congresses.”
“Our people should not worry at all because this would not be rushed,” Rodriguez stated. (See full story online at manilastandard.net)
Rodriguez stressed his committee will conduct a thorough discussion on Charter Change, and that “align with these principles of participatory or inclusive democracy, there will be grassroots consultation.”
Rodriguez, along with House Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr. of Pampanga, has authored a bill allowing the President to enjoy re-election to a second five-year term. The Constitution currently limits the Chief Executive to one six-year term.
“The rationale for this exercise this morning is for the committee and Congress to get the sense and pulse of the people on the important issue of constitutional reform and how it affects their lives,” he told the panel.
“We are going to three areas of our country – Visayas, Luzon and Mindanao, outside Metro Manila to hear our barangay captains’ grassroots opinions and positions on the three questions,” he added.
The committee invited constitutional experts to provide their assessment on whether or not there is a need to tinker with the Charter.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza supported the Charter Change proposal but how it is going to be amended has to be clarified.
“Because the amendment clause rather in Article 17 is very sparse, it does not give the details of how the Congress acting as a constituent assembly should meet and vote,” he told the committee.
“It is very important because the amendment clause is the safety valve for the expression of public opinion. You make that ambiguous, you make it difficult for people to amend the constitution or easy for people to amend the constitution because it’s all ambiguous. It lacks the details. What do you have? You might have a revolution,” he added.
He also stressed: “Is it proper for Congress, to act as a constituent assembly in order to vote for itself acting as a Congress as a legislative department, additional powers to grant equal rights to foreigners without going through the process of amendment?”
“Because in an amendment, it’s Congress and the people ratifying but if you give it only to Congress as a Congress, Congress alone will exercise that power,” Mendoza explained.
Former Commission on Elections Chairman Christian Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that drafted the current charter, for his part sees no need to amend it at this point.
“Instead of rushing to amend the constitution, why don’t our legislators pass an anti-dynasty law of, say, 4 degrees for the barangay elections this year? And how about the abuse by political dynasties of the partylist system?” Monsod told lawmakers.
“The constitution, your honors, is not the problem. It is part of the solution,” he added.
He also said that some proposed amendments to the Constitution may just be “trojan horses to a broader agenda.”
“Because once you convene, the convention or constituent assembly has plenary powers that cannot be limited by law,” Monsod said.
He also rejected a proposal to empower Congress to relax foreign investment limits by mere legislation, calling it “dangerous.”
“It is a dangerous proposal because it is wholesale transfer of power from the constitution to the Congress on foreign ownership. Once inserted, the constitutional provisions become meaningless and the door is opened wider to transactional legislation at which corrupt politicians and greedy business are very adept,” he said.
“The insertion is insidious because it is made to appear as harmless as it only gives Congress flexibility to determine the percentages at the proper time, but the change is made only by ordinary law, with much lesser House and Senate votes and without need of the people themselves in a plebiscite,” Monsod explained.
Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolf Azcuna, another former member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, is generally supportive of charter amendments, particularly its economic provisions.
“Our present constitution contains very specific economic provisions. Economic policy however, are not meant to be long lasting. They are meant to be adjustable to the needs of the times.”
“Therefore, it is not wise to preserve them for a long time in a fundamental law. Our constitution has been 36 years old unamended,” he added.
He also encouraged attempts to amend the constitution by a three-fourth vote of members of Congress to enable the Supreme Court to finally rule on the supposed vagueness of the provision on charter amendments.
“Unfortunately, there is an unintended vagueness in the provision as it now exists because of the fact that the constitutional commission first proposed a unicameral legislature called National Assembly. By a majority of one vote in the committee. The draft that was submitted to the floor was one of a unicameral legislature,” Azcuna recalled.
“Upon voting however, on the draft, the plenary of the constitutional commission voted it down by one vote so as the vice chair of the legislative committee of the ConCom, I was tasked by the Chair, who was the Honorable, Hilario Davide, and the president of the ConCom to rewrite our draft Article VI so fit it into a bicameral legislature.”
“So, I sat down, and in a space of 3 hours I redrafted our proposal into a bicameral. However I could not touch the provision on how to amend the constitution because that belonged to another committee,” he explained.