By Edmund S. Tayao
Let’s say, finally, the House of Representatives and the Senate find enough reason and fortuitously agree to proceed with Constitutional amendments, what amendments should we now consider?
Some are of the thinking we should only amend the economic provisions and avoid political issues altogether.
This was the approach during the time of then President Joseph Estrada, amplified by the administration’s initiative being named Constitutional Correction for Development or CONCORD.
Focusing on the economic provisions obviously makes the development argument palpable.
Not only have we been reading about the feat of many countries, including those of our neighbors who used to trail us in economic development who have now overtaken us, posting significantly higher per capita income than us.
We have seen first-hand the advantages of living abroad, enjoying the comfort and reliability of their public transportation and other more advanced infrastructure.
It therefore comes as no surprise that many would be more inclined to focus on the economic rather than the political provisions in the Constitution.
As we have discussed in the first part, however, the Constitution has a unique function and or purpose for the country, that is why the many names used to refer to it underscores its primordial function.
It is called the “fundamental” law because all laws are based on it and therefore effective only as much as it is based from the Constitution.
It is a Constitution as it is supposed to “constitute,” to shape, the country’s public institutions.
All these therefore explain why the Constitution is also called a “charter” as it also “charts” the country’s direction, proclaiming the ideals and objectives of the country.
The Constitution is fundamental, that all laws are based on it, because it is the first law.
It is the first law, not necessarily because it is literally enacted first, but because it is the “comprehensive” law.
As is already mentioned, it encompasses the country’s ideals and objectives.
These ideals and objectives however cannot be accomplished without establishing the means to realize the principles and objectives set therein.
Absent the mechanisms, that is effective mechanisms, the ideals and objectives proclaimed in the Constitution are nothing but empty words.
It goes without saying unlike all other laws, the understanding of the Constitution is only possible in its entirety.
Each provision is of course important, but such importance can all be made sensible only by understanding the whole Constitution, or in making sense of each provision in relation to the other provisions.
However exhaustive the provisions are in setting the country’s principles and objectives, if appropriate and effective mechanisms are not put in place, where our political system is not well crafted to effect a process that could institutionalize vetting and in turn electing political leaders, including complementary provisions that will have them invariably accountable, we will still be having the same kind of politics and governance.
These are fundamental so that we can also look forward to a more robust and professional civil service.
After all, from the time we have established ourselves as a Republic, we have been making an effort to put in place a resolute public administration in place.
The political system however has all but been a drag to this undertaking.
So, as explained in the first part of this article, wail as much as we want, the critical legislations we have been pushing all this time will not, as it cannot, possibly muster enough support from the current composition of the legislature.
The anti-political dynasty has always been the best example; who among those enjoying their current positions, together with their relatives, would be inclined to support a legislation that is antithetical to their interests?
In the same vein, who among our legislators would be inclined to push for, even at least support, more effective laws that will really address important issues like labor-only contracting?
Who among our leaders would not only support but, more so, advocate a more comprehensive initiative to support our farmers?
Who would support legislation to arrest rampant conversions of farmland to industrial, commercial or residential use?
There are so many possible effective initiatives to make farming worthwhile and make it integral to our development endeavors.
Other than dole out initiatives, however, we have not been seeing much interest from our policy-makers to push for and or support such type of legislations.
Now that the we have established the crucial significance of mechanisms or the capacity of public institutions, should we, or perhaps the more appropriate question is, can we just limit constitutional reforms with economic provisions?
If, example, economic restrictions are lifted, and now made to be subject to legislation, can we rely on the legislature to craft the appropriate legislation to effectively invite foreign capital and make the country as attractive to foreign investments as other countries?
This is after all the main objective of lifting the restrictions.
For a comprehensive understanding of the urgency of amending the economic provisions of the Constitution, read the short paper on the topic of one of our well recognized economists, Gerardo Sicat.
You can search his paper titled “Philippine Economic Nationalism.”
All in all, much as we’d like to make the difficult project of Constitutional reform less political, it is in itself political as the whole effort will just be inconsequential without it. There is no way we can avoid underlying political issues.
The political provisions in the Constitution, the electoral and party system, the overall political system, comprise the mechanism we have been trying to explain in this short paper.
We can of course proceed with economic reforms but it has to include political reforms. Any and all purported needed reforms can be considered but all should, as it can only be worth the effort, be done together with political reforms.
(The author is currently a faculty at the San Beda University Graduate School of Law and Executive Director of the pioneer NGO on Local Governance, the Local Government Development Foundation or LOGODEF. He was also a member of the Consultative Committee to Review the 1987 Constitution convened by former President Rodrigo Duterte that drafted the ‘Bayanihan Federal Constitution of the Philippines.’)