PRESIDENT Duterte was speaking at the induction of some newly elected officials last month when he again turned to a favorite topic – amendment of the Constitution. It may no longer be for federalism, he said, acknowledging the overwhelming opposition of Filipinos in surveys to this form of government which would divide the country into regions, each with a separate regional bureaucracy, when national unity seems to be the greater need.
The President has been pushing for federalism as a means to spur national development, but he might opt instead for amendment of certain constitutional provisions that discourage foreign investments. In the previous administration, there was a move in Congress to amend the more restrictive provisions of the Constitution against foreign ownership of Philippine assets.
But a major roadblock to constitutional amendment is the means preferred by the Duterte administration – a Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass). Our 1973 Constitution was drawn up by a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) composed of elected delegates from all over the country. The present 1987 Constitution was drafted by a Constitutional Committee (Con-Com) whose members were appointed by then President Corazon Aquino. President Duterte prefers a Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass) composed of the sitting members of Congress – to save money that would have to be spent if we had to elect Con-Con delegates.
The key problem with a Constituent Assembly, however, is that there is a big difference of opinion on how its members would vote for a constitutional provision. As one body of congressmen and senators sitting together, as House leaders want? Or as separate chambers, as in the passage of bills? Senators naturally are for separate voting as they would be overwhelmed by joint voting – 24 senators against 304 congressmen – to the point of irrelevance. The present Constitution is silent on this point.
It is because of these issues – the proposed changes to boost national development with increased foreign investments plus the issue of voting singly or separately in a Con-Ass – that so many officials are not keen on Charter-change at this time.
The idea of a Con-Ass was first raised by some administration officials because, they said, a convention would require costly election funding. To save money, they said, just use the sitting congressmen and senators. That is a rather lame excuse – to save money that would be needed to elect Con-Con delegates.
A Constitution is the basic law of the land, around which everything in government and society revolves. If we can hold elections every three years for members of Congress, surely we can hold elections for delegates to a Constitutional Convention who will draw up the basic law which may well govern our nation for many decades.