DESPITE the growing support of administration officials for a Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) to revise the Constitution, the idea persists that a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) is still the better way to do it.
The principal reason given so far for a Con-Ass is that it would save billions of pesos that would be needed to hold an election for convention delegates. It is also said that a convention – from the election of delegates to their final session – would take a long time.
On the other hand, Con-Ass proponents point out, an assembly, being composed of our already elected members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, is already here and ready to go to work and, presumably, ready to approve the changes that are being proposed by the new administration, notably a shift to the federal form of government.
The record of Congress in connection with constitutional changes, however, leaves much to be desired. The constitutional provision against political dynasty, for example, has been in the Constitution since 1987, needing only a law to make it effective, but so many congresses in the last 20 years have repeatedly ignored it. We do not expect this 17th Congress, if it meets as a Con-Ass, to be any different.
There is great concern that the members of Congress may revise the present term limits to allow them to stay in office indefinitely. The House of Representatives in the last Congress also approved proposed constitutional amendments lifting limits on foreign ownership of land and public utilities. Members of Congress have also set aside Freedom of Information bills that would make official acts and decisions more transparent and accountable.
This kind of thinking is likely to prevail in the making of a new Constitution if it is done by congressmen and senators meeting in a Constituent Assembly. In an election for convention delegates, these members of Congress will, of course, be pushing for their own candidates, but many voters are likely to recognize and vote for acknowledged constitutional and legal authorities, such as retired justices, who would not run in a senatorial or congressional election.
“If we want Charter reforms to succeed, we have to do it right,” Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said the other day. An election for convention delegates will also engage the people from the start, he said. They will feel part of the change that will be effected by a new Constitution. They will feel even more that they are part of the change that has been brought by the new administration.