[Blueboard] fR. Berna's Chacha Commentary

Simbahang Lingkod ng Bayan slb at admu.edu.ph
Mon Dec 4 11:10:52 PHT 2006

Enough already 'muna' 
By Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J.
Last updated 03:00am (Mla time) 11/27/2006

Published on page A15 of the November 27, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer 

PARDON THE BAD IDIOM, BUT IT IS A PITHY way of expressing a very valid sentiment.

The sight of the highest leaders of the land announcing a make-or-break final push for the revision of the current Constitution is tragic. It is not that the current Constitution is perfect and beyond improvement or even revision. There is no such thing as a perfect constitution. It is just that a constitution deserves more careful consideration than just a make-or-break rush job to catch a deadline borne out of self-interest.

Let's face it. The national leaders advocating Charter change were rebuffed by the Supreme Court in their effort to sneak in a sloppily drafted and handled revision through initiative and referendum. Some of them have not yet fully given up on this and have seen a ray of sunlight in the decision of the Supreme Court-that Republic Act 6735 is sufficient after all. (I myself have held that RA 6735 is sufficient.) But since the Court has said that revision is not a proper subject for initiative and that what the advocates of initiative were proposing is a revision, the sufficiency or insufficiency of RA 6735 has become irrelevant for Sigaw ng Bayan and company.

Speaker Jose de Venecia sees this and so he has come up with his final-push campaign. Charter change will now be through a constituent assembly. But under what circumstances?

First, it will be a race toward the start of the campaign for the 2007 elections. True, it may be possible for a small group of legislative experts to slap together a draft for a new Constitution. But the product will not be just that, a draft. It will still have to be submitted for debate within a constituent assembly consisting of people whose attention may well be focused on the coming elections and not on Charter change.

Second, the constituent assembly that is envisioned will most certainly encounter a constitutional obstacle. The constituent assembly envisioned by the Constitution is Congress. Congress consists of two houses which means, if it is to be Congress, the Senate and House must both agree to act as a constituent assembly. The Senate, to say the least, is reluctant to act now. If the Senate as a body does not decide to join, then you don't have a legitimate constituent assembly. This will be a matter for the Court to decide and it is unlikely for the Court to arrive at a decision before the De Venecia deadline.

Thirdly, even if the Senate decides to join, there will be a big battle about the manner of voting, that is, whether jointly or separately. It is not likely that the Senate will agree to a joint voting. Hence, this will again have to go to the Supreme Court.

I doubt that a solution desired by the advocates or even by the President will be achieved by "packing" the Court with "friendly" appointees. Aside from the fact that apparently "friendly" appointees can turn out to be staunchly independent after all, the very idea of packing the Court with "friends" will be seen as an attempt to convert the Court into a personal tool or fiefdom. Justices are likely to find this highly offensive.

Finally, who will orchestrate this final push? It will be orchestrated and supported by legislators who have manifested their interest in changes that will benefit their own position. They are hardly the ideal authors to whom the nation should entrust the crafting of a fundamental document that will govern the nation for years to come.

What then? Elections are due in roughly six months. We will then elect members of the House of Representatives and 12 senators. The voters have been exposed to the debates about the need or lack of need to revise the current Constitution. Voters know that there can be no revision of the Constitution, whether through a constituent assembly or a constitutional convention, without the initial approval of Congress. If Congress decides not to act as a constituent assembly, it is still Congress that decides whether to call a constitutional convention or not. Let those who will run for Congress in the coming elections manifest to the people what their sentiments are about revising the Constitution.

There is an alternative which Congress, whether this Congress or the next, can do for the people. Let the people decide whether there should be a constitutional convention instead of Congress acting as a constituent assembly. The Constitution says that Congress, by a majority vote of all its members, may submit to the electorate the question of calling a constitutional convention.

Some people who have vigorously supported initiative and referendum or even a constituent assembly also accuse critics of the initiative movement of being opposed to change. It is pointless to try to disabuse such thinking. The fact of the matter, however, is that there has been no time for debate on the changes being advocated. Rather, those who oppose initiative now or even a constituent assembly have trained their guns not against change as such but against the process being employed. Should a rational and honest process get started, there will be plenty of time for rational debate about what changes to make. There may even be much agreement.
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