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Professors, scholars launch signature campaign vs constituent assembly

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Professors and scholars from different academic institutions in the Philippines have started a signature campaign against plans to hold a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution.

While convening Congress into a Constituent Assembly is one of the 3 ways to revise the charter, the academicians called for a more inclusive and participatory process in constitutional reform. (READ: The problem with Con-Ass? Distrust of Congress)

“Almost 80% of Congress is comprised of political dynasties, and the empirical evidence suggests that a majority of them may face deep conflict of interest if a new constitution aims for reforms that level the political playing field. The risk of capture by vested interests affecting our present politics is too great,” the professors said in a statement.

Citing recent surveys, the professors said now is not the right time to reform the Constitution.

According to the March 2018 Pulse Asia survey, a big majority of Filipinos or 64% oppose charter change. (READ: What you need to know about charter change)

Changing the Constitution also ranked last in the "most urgent national concerns" in Pulse Asia Research, Incorporated's survey, with only 3% of the Filipinos saying that it should be acted upon immediately.

A poll by  the Social Weather Stations in March showed that only 37% of Filipinos support the shift to a federal system of government while only one in 4 Filipinos are even aware of what it is.

The professors who signed the manifesto so far include:

No to ‘no-el’ 2019

The scholars also strongly condemned talks of cancelling the 2019 elections, saying “there are more pressing and immediate policy challenges that our leaders must address,” including the spate of killings in the country and rising prices of goods.

“A constitution is supposed to bind our nation in common values and a shared vision. It is the very glue that should unite us all in common purpose. If we are to amend the constitution, we must invest not just in the outcome, but in the very process,” they said.

“This is a broad discussion that must bring together our citizens from all walks of life, professions and political leanings. It is a national discourse that must allay fears, clarify concerns and bring us all towards common ground,” they added.

House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez first floated the idea of a no-election scenario in January. He raised it again on Wednesday, July 11, saying it would expedite the shift to federalism.

The Speaker explained he prefers not to have the elections in 2019 because Congress would be pressed for time to amend the charter. Con-Com chairman Reynato Puno recommends the ratification of the new constitution by May 2019, the same month the midterm polls is scheduled.

The House already approved a joint resolution calling both chambers of Congress to form a Constituent Assembly to amend the charter. The Senate, however, has not acted on it. Senators wanted to ensure that there would be separate voting between chambers should a Con-Ass be formed.

Some senators are also pushing for Constitutional Convention, but Duterte had announced he wanted the faster and cheaper mode of Con-Ass. In the latter, Congress is convened to change the Constitution while in Con-Con the delegates will be elected by the people. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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