As we celebrate the 25th year of the current Constitution after its rewriting in 1987, it is fitting that I devote some space in offering my few cents’ worth on where it has brought us so far. Prior to this rewriting, the affairs of the state were governed by the provisions of the 1973 Constitution, which saw amendments in 1976.
Upon its passage, the framers of the new charter heralded the return of the Rule of Law and they were jubilant in their proclaiming of a constitution that brought back the state in order and leveled the playing field. But it was a tall order, and they had to contend with the fact that the Marcos dictatorship virtually left the country in misery after a massive plundering by the strongman and his minions, totally disregarding the Constitution and virtually all institutions of governance. Therefore, the hopes that the new (and reactivist) constitution should straighten things up were at its highest.
Understandably, the resulting constitutional revision succeeded in endearing Cory to the masses, with the millions of them pinning their hopes on the new charter as a cure to the ills they inherited from Mr. Marcos’ misrule. Unwittingly, the very same constitution also cemented Cory’s relationship with the elite, foremost among them the Lopez clan of the Meralco and ABS-CBN empire, and with whom Marcos was said to have ‘gravely’ wronged, or those whose wealth the dictator allegedly expropriated for himself and his cronies illegally and by force. Thankfully, the new constitution not only did clear the last vestiges of dictatorship; it ushered in the return of the local elite who had cooled their heels in Europe and the United States at the height of social unrest in the Philippines. But were the vestiges really cleared? In the years following Cory’s rule, the once sidelined elite have slowly rebuilt their empires and, more significantly, they have expanded far and wide beyond our imagination. Indeed, it was back to business, and big business at that.
But why reform the Constitution?
The 1987 charter seems to be working just fine. But for who?
Reforming the Constitution, as always, is easier said than done. But a confluence of historical events, the mounting pressure on government by the growing social reform movement, and the widespread unrest in Mindanao and Southern Philippines have forced both the pros and the antis to rethink their long-held beliefs and deep-seated biased to resolve these by confronting the issues surrounding charter reform. Yet before it gained traction, proponents of charter reform had trouble connecting with people and had to contend with bad publicity and massive misinformation campaign waged by its critics and opponents who succeeded in confusing more the public by muddling the issue as an attempt to a wholesale change of the charter, popularizing what became the most derided political vocabulary in those times–charter change or cha-cha. Thanks to the media’s meddling and mishandling, cha-cha suddenly mesmerized the public and easily stoke passion and outrage against it. And suddenly, cha-cha scared politicians and even citizen Juan: the former dreading the thought of losing their prized position, pork and perks and cutting short their terms of office; the latter for political disenfranchisement, of alienation in the affairs of the state. This was precisely the result of a good product given a bad social marketing by bad marketers–the most untrusted of politicos with whom people suspect will only deepen their pockets and consolidate their hold to power beyond public scrutiny.
Debates on charter reform can not but take into account the ongoing negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine panel over peace and development in Mindanao and Southern Philippines and the aspirations of the Bangsamoro people. As a Mindanawon, it is my fervent hope that the negotiations would establish clearly the fundamentals that define, frame and govern the parameters of the debate as both panels desperately seek arrive at a consensus. Unfortunately so far, consensus is not only elusive; it is momentarily unreachable under the framework that they are negotiating. For one, the acknowledgement by the Philippine government of historical injustice against the Bangsamoro, while a step forward, falls short in arriving at a basic compromise for a substate as the acknowledgement demands both tangible and beneficial results. In fine, there is only one way to talk peace–and that is in the language of justice. The sustained Bangsamoro struggle, to my mind, is the game changer in the debate on constitutional reform as its struggle for self-determination and ‘nationhood’ can only seek refuge in a tolerant Constitution that truly upholds the spirit and prize the value of democratic multiculturalism.
Another provision in the 1987 charter providing argument for reform is worth reexamining: the separation of church and state.
We all know what the church–for brevity, this refers to all churches–has been doing and what our leaders in government have failed to do all these years as they simply look the other way when that ridiculous provision is conveniently violated. We may have the best laws in the Philippines, but it seems we also have the worst implementation and implementers of such laws. Which is which?
But I would gladly belabor the point of ridicule: by virtue of the church as a guardian and a monopoly of morality, it shall control–through its bishops and pastors and its instrumentalities–all spheres of human conduct, including political governance. The simplest way to describe the relationship between, or the separation of, the church and the state is one that is unilaterally and parasitically anomalous, one which guarantees the survival of a single organism. There is no symbiosis in this disorder!
Which brings my recollection to a proposed measure by senators Gregorio Honasan and Juan Flavier of taxing the church many congresses ago. The arguement was, and still is, premised on a very contentious issue that the church is even reluctant to discuss, much less admit–that it is sitting on a mound of cash, in the tens of billions by the latest estimate.
To say that the church, the Roman Catholic especially, is a wealthy organization is an understatement. The RCC’s global operation is far more extensive and cleverly complex than any multinational corporation on the Fortune 100 list. For starters, count how many church-run schools operate in your city. If counting church-run schools is tedious, determining how much money these schools make is next to impossible not because of the mind-boggling digits but simply because we have no way of knowing it. Lest we forget, these schools do not submit records to the BIR for taxation, nor file annual financial reports to the SEC. Indeed, the absence of income documents makes it impossible to track the wealth of these institutions.
But let’s number-crunch on the enrollment at some of the elite catholic schools in the Philippines and think how much De La Salle, University of Asia and the Pacific, Ateneo de Manila, and University of Santo Tomas make each year from those expensive tuition and fees they charge each student? Easily a billion pesos. But we ask: Where have all monies gone? Certainly, not to the national treasury, but to the hidden vaults somewhere in Switzerland and the Vatican.
While the church makes a lot of money, we ask: Does it spend a lot of it? For what? On who? Where? Why?How? From its untold revenues in the billions (in US$ worldwide totals), how much of it is invested on social development to transform lives and communities? We do not have an accounting of these investments, if any, courtesy of the separation of church and state.
Another important change in the Constitution has to do with population.
Again, the influence of the church and its robed flock seem to scare politicians to hell to debate on the merits of a sensible and strong population management program. In this republic, we can only count with our fingers politicians, nay leaders, who can square off with a minister on contraceptives and other means of reducing population. But all these really lead us back to that provision on separation of church and state, which goes like this: What is good for the church is good for the government, and the country for that matter; what is good for the government is not necessarily beneficial to the church.
That is what is going on here and now. And it’s been going on since the invention of commerce.
What is more crippling is the inability (or total disability) of our leaders to stand up to this medievalization. And of course, the 1986 Constitution had, in two decades, spawned a new class of vampires, err, oligarchs who have been sucking the resources of this country as if they never run dry. These are the very vampires who are against changing their enviable lifestyle as guaranteed by the Cory Constitution.
Other than these points, I believe the Constitution is still worth adhering to. Term limits? No. In fact, the term limit for a president should be shortened to, maybe, four years. A shorter term limit puts pressure to deliver, and save the country from a collective heart attack over the misdeeds of whoever is in power.
Business and land ownership? Well, when the framers of the 1986 Constitution were debating and deliberating, there was no Internet yet. No Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL, etc. So, their definition of strategic interests were mainly confined to the old bastion of agriculture and its related industries. But big business, rather global business, has always a way of encroaching into protected domains for and in the name of profit.
Part of being Pinoy is to accept the truth and the fact that many companies doing small, medium, and big business earning small, medium, and huge profits everyday are dummies.
How do we manage this? Maybe the anti-Dummy law can handle this? Of course, only partly. The ever growing and hugely profitable dummy phenomenon is guaranteed by the Constitution through its tacit approval in liberalizing sectors in the name of investments that are admittedly hard to come by these days.
Who defines what is strategic and therefore off-limits to liberalization. Man, who else, but the same vampires we identified earlier.
It’s really a no-brainer. Change the Constitution to get rid of these suckers! This is the long and short of it.
June 23, 2009