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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Who should revise?

“Given a choice, the public at large will realize that too many officials elected in too frequent elections are bane, rather than boon, to development and the elimination of poverty”

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Although the president has stated publicly that revising the 1987 Constitution is not his priority, the House of Representatives has held plenary sessions to debate the proposal to convene an elected Constitutional Convention for the purpose.

It is politically safe for the president not to be seen as wanting to amend the Constitution.

First, because past experiences have shown the electorate is always suspicious of extending the terms of officials they themselves elected for an absurdly short period of three years.

This is what doomed previous attempts to amend the charter, especially when done during the latter half of an incumbent president’s term.

Second, because the president has to be sensitive to the feelings of his highly popular vice-president and the legion of followers of the Duterte political brand, who might suspect that amending the fundamental law would affect VP Sara’s turn at the bat come 2028.

But the former president has himself declared the present Constitution as seriously flawed, and a public avowal by Pres. Marcos Jr. forswearing any extension of his present tenure should be assurance enough.

The president surely realizes we have such a flawed political system that likewise impedes economic development and helps worsen the levels of inequality in our society.

It is wrong to think that if we lift the so-called “nationalist” restrictions imposed by the charter, foreign capital would come in droves to our economy.

The handlers of Sen. Robinhood Padilla must remind him that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” that quote attributed to literary giants Sir Francis Bacon and Alexander Pope.

No, Mr. Senator, sir, lifting foreign equity restrictions is not a magic wand that will end “37 years of poverty.” Fact is, the roots of our poverty did not begin with the ouster of Marcos Sr., but long before that.

There are basic conditions that attract foreign investors, and even domestic risk capital into an economy, namely: a stable and predictable political environment; the presence of a skilled and trainable labor force whose wages are reasonably competitive with others; and good governance, which means transparency and accountability along with a justice system that is fair, impartial and not prone to corruption.

The second factor, that of our labor force, has been considerably less attractive because many prefer, for obvious reasons, to work overseas, thus sucking out valuable manpower from our land; and, second, our educational system has continuously deteriorated especially in the important applied proficiencies of science and mathematics.

That will take some doing, and perhaps charter change is not as relevant in improving that second condition as to be competitive.

For now, we revel in our broken English literacy, but that is fleeting because our regional competitors are serious about learning correct English and understandable Mandarin, along with their consistently good STEM skills.

The other two basics that attract investors to a country, that of a stable and predictable political environment along with good governance, will prosper only if we adopt a Constitution that promotes these and not one addled by contradictions.

But before we enumerate our own proposals towards correcting our flawed political framework, we need to decide on the HOW of amendment.

The charter itself mandates three modes: one, through a Constituent Assembly of both houses of our bicameral legislature; two, a Convention of delegates elected by the people for the specific purpose of revising the fundamental law; and third, although practicable only for specific amendments, that of People’s Initiative.

If we are to amend economic provisions and revise the political system, only the first two modes are practical.

But a Constituent Assembly will be faced with public suspicion on self-serving motives of legislators, and more importantly, the Senate will not agree to its 24 republics having the same vote as 300 congressmen.

That impasse alone is well nigh impossible to hurdle.

Thus we agree with the House proponents, calling for the election of delegates to a Constitutional Commission.

But valid is the apprehension of the erudite CJ Reynato Puno, about a preponderance of proxies of existing dynasts controlling the convention, especially given the time frame for campaigning and the seriously corrupted electoral set-up in the land.

To elect 243 delegates representing the number of congressional districts almost certainly ensures the proxies of our present crop of politicians will comprise the overwhelming majority of the convention.

Aside from that, 243 is such an unwieldy number, likely to be mired in endless debate which will consume so much time.

We thus humbly propose that elections be held by regional representation based on population density.

We have in all, 17, special administrative regions included.

If we proportion one delegate for every 2 million residents, we would be electing only 53 members, a number that is quite manageable.

Accordingly, given present population, these would be:

Region 1 : 3 delegates

Region 2 : 2 “

Region 3 : 6 “

Region 4 : 8 “

Region 5 : 3 “

Region 6 : 4 “

Region 7 : 4 “

Region 8 : 2 “

Region 9 : 2 “

Region 10: 2 “

Region 11: 2 “

Region 12: 2 “

Region 13: 1 “

Region 4B: 2 “

CAR : 1 “

BARMM : 2 “

NCR : 7 “


TOTAL : 53 delegates

Then, the President, Senate President and Speaker can, by consensus, agree on the appointment of 12 members, representing both the marginalized sectors, such as labor, farmers, fisherfolk, IPs, OFWs, plus educators, medical practitioners, the IBP, business, tourism, the creative industries, etc., at one each, making a total of 65 delegates comprising the convention.

That number would be representative enough, and will not be too costly.

And they need not be paid 10,000 pesos a day as the House suggests, for the honor of being a framer of the fundamental law should dwarf any pecuniary rewards.

Being chosen by a regional electorate should largely minimize the power of provincial dynasties to ram down their proxies.

It should by and large elect more qualified and more respectable members of the regional communities, after a concerted voter education effort by the Comelec and civil society.

We had precedents of regionally elected members of parliament in the past, especially during the Marcos Sr. administration.

The Interim Batasang Pambansa was elected by region; the regular one was elected not by district, but by provinces at large, proportionate to population.

We then had 180 BP members with no Senate. Now we have 234 district representatives, plus 61 more from the party-list representation which Sen. Padilla, and I fully agree with him, should be abolished.

Only the dynasts who have taken advantage of the flaws in our political system and the oligarchs who have found it convenient to not only fund, but even control, or “own” political parties would want the present system maintained.

Given a choice, the public at large will realize that too many officials elected in too frequent elections are bane, rather than boon, to development and the elimination of poverty.

More of that in the next columns.


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