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Experts: 1987 Constitution not the problem, but the solution

The 1987 Philippine Constitution is not the problem to be solved but is actually part of the solution in addressing poverty, among other social injustices, one of the framers of the Charter and a former Supreme Court justice said Thursday.

Former Commission on Elections chairperson Christian Monsod, one of the framers of 1987 Philippine Constitution, and former Supreme Court justice Adolf Azcuna made the position during the public hearing on proposals seeking Charter change before the House constitutional amendments panel.

Monsod said the 1987 Constitution should not be blamed for social ills because it is the dominance of political dynasties in the halls of Congress and other positions of authority that impedes reforms provided for by the Charter.

“The 1987 Constitution is not just about restoration of democracy through peaceful means. To the poor, it is a promise of new social order which remains unfulfilled to this day. We are still laggards in addressing mass poverty, gross inequalities in social, economic and political aspects, and that is rooted in the feudalistic system of dynastic families who have been impervious to change for generations, alongside their evil companion, corruption,” Monsod said.

“Real change cannot happen until we strike at the roots, not at the branches. Congress has not passed an anti-dynasty law for 35 years and blames the Constitution for the lapse. That is a lame excuse,” he added.

Monsod said the heart of Charter is the policy for social justice and human rights, as well as the equal importance of social, economic and civil and political rights.

“The poor should be the center of development [efforts], and the economy should be firmly and safely placed in the hands of the Filipinos themselves. We are a country of inequalities for generations. The starting point of the rich and the poor are not equal, and social justice is about adjustment of these starting positions through education, health, asset reform programs for fisheries, land, housing and ancestral domain where most of the poor are,” he said.

“All of our problems exist because we have been underperforming with the implementation of such reforms, underfunding the program or taking advantage of the loopholes of the law,” he added.

Monsod said that while no Charter is perfect since it is written by imperfect people, the 1987 Constitution was based on wide consultations with people who overwhelmingly preferred the stability of familiar and democratic structure.

“We have underperformed in developing areas outside Metro Manila, are dealing with mass poverty and weakening of our institutions not because of our Constitution but because we have ignored its mandates and failed to fulfill and implement its reforms, especially on justice and local autonomy,” Monsod said.

“The Constitution is not the problem, but the solution,” Monsod added.

Economic provisions

Azcuna, for his part, said that any amendment to the Constitution should be limited with economic provisions, and with the House and the Senate voting separately.

He was referring to the constitutional provision or Article 17 which does not explicitly state whether the Senate and the House should vote jointly or separately on measures seeking to amend the Constitution.

“Whatever amendment you have, you have to adopt it with three fourths of the House [members] and three fourths of the Senate [members]. You can vote separately, and put it (amendments) to a plebiscite. Someone will stop it and bring it before the Supreme Court (SC), and the SC will have an interpretation,” Azcuna said.

“That is the one you have to clarify with Article 17. You should try and attempt a [Charter change] proposal that will go to the Supreme Court,” Azcuna added.

Azcuna said amendments limited to economic provisions, including foreign ownership of public utilities and other industries, can be made by simply adding the phrase “unless provided for by law.”

“Economic policies are not meant to be long lasting. It is meant to be adjustable to the needs of the times and it is not wise to preserve them for a long time,” Azcuna said.

“The Constitution has been there for 36 years, and it may no longer be attuned to the demand of the economic policies today, such as the strong current of globalization. Amendments can be concentrated on mass media, education and public utilities. We need foreign investments, especially amid inflation and the pandemic,” he added.

Azcuna maintained that the 1987 Constitution is a good constitution which only needs a few tweaks instead of an overhaul.

“It is a good Constitution, but it is not completely implemented. The heart of the present Constitution is social justice, and it can be remedied without going against the heart of the present Constitution,” Azcuna said. — RSJ, GMA Integrated News