This is The Gardener’s Take on charter change.
In any revolution the theme always comes down to the question made famous in the musicale, Les Miserables, “Can you hear the people sing?”
In the current public discussions of whether or not to amend the 1987 Charter, to what ends, and in what manner, one misses a rather fundamental context: Are the rules geared to giving the people a chance to have their own voice and sing their own song? Or is it again a game of the one and the few, excluding the many?
In a stratified society like Philippine society has always been and is increasingly so, the question has become all-important if we are to witness non-violence for authentic change instead of the violent uprising of a poor and oppressed majority populace.
Down the decades and the centuries, people of this archipelago have been part of the great movement of humanity in defense of the human person and the safeguarding of human dignity.
Thus, in 1987 “We, the sovereign Filipino people implored the aid of Almighty God in order to build a just and humane society, and establish a government that would embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law, and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality and peace.”
To that end, we the people promulgated our present Constitution. We had earlier done a similar deed – in 1971, in 1935 and in 1899, when we proclaimed our basic law and social agreement.
Through the Constitution, we deliberately express our self-image as a community. We enunciate an ideal which we try collectively to realize but before which, quite often, realities of the present fall far short.
However, although it endeavors the best it can to reflect natural law, no Constitution is ever perfect. It is thus open to changes by partial amendments or by total replacement, depending on the evolution and the will of our nation, when a national consciousness has been achieved.
No Constitution is ever perfect – whether as regards its origins or its real aims. Was it made with sufficient participation by the Many, or was it made by a few for the interest maintenance of the Few, so that we can honestly ask whether it is therefore a document of the nation or at least of the majority populace, or not.
Does it really belong to them (the Many) and not to only One (a dictator like old Marcos, or an imperial power like the USA) nor merely to the oligarchic Few?
I am admittedly utilizing the simple, if not simplistic but functional way, of regarding a stratified Philippine society, like ours is today, and recognizing the distinction between “the One, the Few and the Many.”
“The Many” are the broad majority of people who matter very little, although they are made to feel they do, in political and economic decision-making. In fact, they feel and are outsiders of the mainstream; they are in the periphery.
“The Few” are the Moneyed and the Privileged, and at their center are those who have become super-rich and powerful, and are traditionally referred to as “the Oligarchy.” Their political order is liberal in character. Ordinarily, however, this liberal order is not applied to the Many, so that the resulting polity is often properly called “elitist,” “oligarchic,” or “limited” democracy, where only “people” who have wealth really matter.
“The One,” on the other hand, refers to political dictatorship and economic monopoly.
The Few is always at loggerheads with the One, either openly or in quiet, treacherous fashion.
In Philippine history the One characterized our old colonial times and was only possible in post-colonial periods with the intervention and continued support from outside, as in “the US-Marcos Martial Law Regime,” or in the previous regime that was often on the verge of becoming a “China-Duterte Dictatorship.”
Technically, a dictatorial government exists when one person, clique, faction or party controls all three branches of government, namely, the legislative, executive and judicial functions.
Psychologically, a dictator reigns when the Few and the Many are made to fear him because they have been persuaded to think he is willing, ready and able to deprive them of their comforts and their very life if they don’t do what he wants them to.
What might be the forces at work today that, early in a new administration, talk of Charter change has become intense?
Is it the fact that the old-Marcos dictatorial style is no longer feasible and possible – not after 1986? Therefore for that same Marcos family to continue on in top position “legally,” without term limits, some charter changes might be necessary early enough.
Is it the fact that the oligarchy’s past presidents can be made to get back to top position via a change of political form of government from present presidential to a new parliamentary form of our own kind where they can return to the old seat of power with the new title of Prime Minister?
Is it the fact that some foreign forces want to have a crack at owning our lands and natural resources permanently or, at least, more securely in their view that charter changes in this regard become necessary for them to invest in us at all?
Or is it the fact that organized groups of the Many feel their only chance at people-backed ascent to power is through a new form of government –where, at first, for some couple of election seasons, they will sit in creative alliance with various other groups but ultimately have numbers enough to install a dominant Labor or Social Democratic government?
Before all that, however, is the paramount question of how constitutional amendments come about according to the constitution itself and relevant enabling legislation. It seems clear from the start that this is an area of endeavor exclusive to the One and the Few. The Many do not count.
Under the common interpretation of the Constitution, amendments can be proposed by one of three methods: a People’s Initiative, a Constituent Assembly (“Con Ass”) or a Constitutional Convention (“Con-Con”).
The “Con Ass” method needs the vote of three-fourths of all the members of the legislature, with both houses voting separately. The legislature becomes the constituent assembly. A plebiscite follows, not earlier than sixty days and no later than ninety days after the submission of the amendments or revision.
Another method is the Congress calling the “Con-Con” into existence, again with a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, with both houses voting separately. A majority vote of all of the Members of Congress, with both houses voting separately, submits to the electorate the question of calling such a convention. And again, a plebiscite follows, not earlier than sixty days and no later than ninety days after the submission of the amendments or revision.
You’re dead right if you sense that ordinary people have absolutely no say in the adoption of either method so far. But what about the method of “People’s Initiative?”
In theory, this method is a Petition by at least 12% of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district (meaning all legislative districts, 100 percent, no exception) must be represented by at least 3% of the registered voters therein. Again, a plebiscite follows, not earlier than sixty days nor later than ninety days after the certification by the Commission on Elections of the sufficiency of the petition.
If the Petition flunks in even only one district, thanks to the money and efforts of the opposing Few, the method automatically fails. Who will disagree that it is well-nigh impossible to have all districts rally, as required, behind the people’s initiative?
In any case, the Supreme Court ruled that the People’s Initiative method of amending the constitution, as enabled by law, is “fatally defective”, or inoperable. The enabling law “R.A. No. 6735 is deficient and inadequate in itself to be called the enabling law that implements the people’s initiative on amendments to the Constitution,” said the Court in G.R. No. 127325. March 19, 1997.
Another ruling in 2006 on another attempt at a People’s Initiative was ruled unconstitutional by the court.
This only leaves, for now, the Constituent Assembly and the Constitutional Convention as the valid ways to amend the constitution – not something for the people to look forward to.
But the Constitutional provision remains clear: ARTICLE XVII (AMENDMENTS OR REVISIONS)
Section 1. Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by:
(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or
(2) A constitutional convention.
Section 2. Amendments to this Constitution may likewise be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.
Should not the legislature now study the Court-discovered “fatal defects” and “inoperable provisions” of existing enabling laws and come up with new legislation that will be in consonance with the current constitutional article (XVII) on amendments or revisions?
The 1987 Constitution was supposedly a “people-powered” constitution, following the 1986 People Power Revolution. If nothing can be done about this by the present power-holders of our country, the people, the majority populace, the Many may have to start thinking seriously of another people power event for the express purpose of recovering their voice.
The people’s voice must not be stilled – or there is no democracy, no freedom, no justice. Amending the constitution such as present-day discussions are focused on should be deemed secondary. The primary issue is how the people’s voice can be restored – how the People’s Initiative form of amending or revising the constitution can be made operable without the fatal defects, whatever they might be. FINIS (#Charles Avila)