JOSE C. SISON: URGENT CHANGES
MANILA, JULY 8, 2013 (PHILSTAR) A LAW EACH DAY (KEEPS TROUBLE AWAY) By Jose C. Sison - Our Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
It is a written instrument drawn up for the benefit of the people expressing their sovereign will for the safe and useful exercise of the fundamental powers of the government, by defining, limiting and distributing them among its several departments or branches. (Malcolm and Laurel Philippine Constitution, p.6).
There is no dispute therefore that the Constitution is the peoples’ voice and for the peoples’ benefit.
And so it is the people who will decide whether it should be changed or not, if and when change seems to be necessary either because some provisions in the document have become obsolete due to the passage of time, or have turned out to be not for the benefit of the people or because the exercise of some fundamental powers of the government is no longer safe or useful.
Being written in a single document our Charter is considered “rigid,” meaning that it can be changed only through a special process.
The people can change the Charter (Cha-cha) either directly or indirectly through its chosen representative in Congress. Cha-cha can be done directly by the people “through initiative upon a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters therein” (Article XVII, Section 2, Constitution).
The people can Cha-cha indirectly through Congress upon a vote of three fourths of all its members or through a constitutional convention (con-con).
A con-con is called by Congress by a vote of two-thirds of all its members or by the electorate when majority of the members of Congress decide to submit to them the question of calling a convention (Article XVII, Sections 1 and 3).
Our Charter can be changed either by amending or revising it. Amendment consists of either (1) altering one or a few specific provisions with the intention of improving them, or (2) adding new provisions or removing existing ones as demanded by existing conditions.
Revision, on the other hand consists of re-examining the entire document to determine the manner and extent of the changes to be made that may result in its total change or merely in an alteration of key provisions therein.
Amendment to, or revision of the Charter can be made only by Congress or a con-con called for the purpose.
Revision of the Charter cannot be done directly by the people. They can only propose amendments thereto through initiative.
However, any amendment or revision, to be valid, must be ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite held not earlier than 60 days or later than 90 days after approval of such amendment or revision (Section 4, Article XVII).
These provisions in our Constitution are clear enough to show that the President has no say at all on the matter of changing our Constitution. He should not therefore interfere in the moves initiated by members of Congress, specifically by Speaker Sonny Belmonte by instantly thumbing down amendments being proposed.
Such stance only shows that he wants to maintain the status quo; that he does not really want to change and improve governance in this country as he has repeatedly avowed; that he is satisfied with our existing economic situation where, despite media build up on the improving economy, only the rich are getting richer while the poor remains poor or are getting poorer; that he wants to preserve our present socio-political situation where despite his legendary reputation for “honesty,” graft, corruption, incompetency still abound in the various levels of government as he plays favorite by seeing nothing wrong with the questionable and suspicious acts of his kaibigan, kabarkada, kabarilan and kamag-anak (?) while quickly condemning or publicly chastising others not connected to, or known by him, or belonging to the past administration.
Indeed by trying to nip in the bud the moves to change the charter, P-Noy has also shown that the principle of separation of power and independence of the three main departments of government from each other enshrined in our Constitution, are not effective; that the President can easily influence members of Congress or the Legislative department and even the Judiciary because too much power is concentrated on the Executive department.
His stance all the more points to the necessity of amending or revising the Charter to achieve a balance of power among the three main departments of government so as to maintain their independence.
The economic provisions in our Charter really need some changes as proposed by Speaker Belmonte. Apparently, experience shows that those changes are necessary if we want to be competitive in the emerging global trade.
The economic experts in our country are in a better position to present the arguments in favor of such changes.
But the urgent changes should not only be confined to the economic provision.
Our experience in the field of politics also shows that we need to change some other provisions in the Charter that will undoubtedly reform our politics, clean our government and improve public service. Since we regained our freedom after the 1986 people power revolution and adopted the present Constitution in 1987, it is quite obvious that the following changes are imperative.
First is the provision on political dynasties. As shown in last election, political dynasties have grown bigger because the prohibition in our Constitution against dynasty still needs some enabling law.
And this is not possible under the present set up because Congress is infested with dynasties as to prevent the enactment of such law. Second is the party-list system of representation in the Lower House.
Such system has only been used by the leftist groups to gain seats and some financial clout in order to advance their ideology. It has not achieved the real purpose of giving a voice to the marginalized and indigent sectors of our society.
At least if these changes in the political provisions are done, reforms will surely follow.
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