MANILA, Philippines – Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr opposes amending the current 1987 Constitution.
Congress has been laying the groundwork for charter change, with President Rodrigo Duterte himself backing the efforts.
“I am not in favor of amending the present Constitution at this time. It is the best Constitution. What is important is only to implement the same,” Davide told Rappler on Thursday, August 11.
“It’s not change of structures, [whether] it would be federalism or parliamentary. It is change in people. So you have enough of the structures, legal and constitutional,” he added.
“I will say that if people could only be made to fully understand our present Constitution, they will realize that there is no need to amend it,” argued Davide, who was the country’s top magistrate from 1998 to 2005.
Davide was elected delegate from Cebu in the 1971 Constitutional Convention that wrote the 1973 Constitution. He was also appointed member of the Constitutional Commission (Con-Com) that drafted the current 1987 Constitution.
Con-Con over Con-Ass
However, if plans for charter change will push through, Davide hopes that amendments will be done via a Constitutional Convention or Con-Con.
“Because you’ll expect different people to be in that convention in the sense that they don’t have political motivations,” he explained.
The Con-Con is one of 3 modes of charter change, along with a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) or a People’s Initiative. Con-Con delegates are chosen through an election, while the incumbent members of Congress comprise the Con-Ass. Meanwhile, a People’s Initiative involves a required number of signatures by registered voters.
“If you delegate it to the Con-Ass, you have people there elected on the basis of their political parties.” President Duterte is now leaning toward a less expensive Con-Ass, after opting for a Con-Con at first.
While admitting that politicians might still find a way to intervene in a Con-Con, Davide said that this mode is preferable. “It is best to have, at least initially, a public impression that the people elected to the Con-Con are people without any other political motivation, no selfish ambitions.”
Meanwhile, despite participating in one, Davide is against having another Con-Com, as proposed by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. The proposed constitutional commission will have members appointed by the President to help the Con-Ass in amending the Constitution.
“In reality, it is acting on behalf of the legislature. As such, we should see to it that all the necessary precautions should be in place. Meaning, there should be public hearings, explaining to the people what is sought to be amended,” Davide said.
Complete, comprehensive, enduring
He added, “It would take a lot of time to fully understand what the present Constitution is all about. You cannot speak of amendments unless you know the present Constitution.”
A recent Pulse Asia survey revealed that 73% of respondents have little or “almost none or no knowledge at all” of the country’s most important law.
Davide said that our Constitution in its current form is complete and comprehensive. He emphasized it is pro-Filipino, and “is the only constitution in the whole world that is pro-God, pro-life, pro-people, pro-poor, pro-women, pro-environment among all else.”
He also said that it is an enduring one. “It doesn’t answer only for the present realities or conditions. It would even expect for the future development of the country.”
“What is important is that it’s really for the promotion of the hopes and aspirations of the Filipino people,” he added.
Nonetheless, if Congress proceeds with charter change, the former chief justice said he would take part in the discussions and deliberations.
“It is really crucial that the new changes should be the only subject of any discussion. The people should really be given the full opportunity to know what is exactly to be changed and what changes are to be made.”
On martial law
As for Duterte’s remark on August 9 when he threatened to declare martial law, Davide said the Constitution has put limits as to when it could be invoked and how long it would be in effect.
Duterte made the remark after current Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno wrote to the President about her concern over the “premature public announcement” of the names of 7 judges who allegedly have drug links.
Section 18, Article VII of the Constitution states that, “In case of invasion or rebellion, when the public safety requires it, he may, for a period not exceeding 60 days, suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus or place the Philippines or any part thereof under martial law.”
“If there is a need for an extension, it should be an act of Congress already,” added Davide.
He argued that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign or the call for law and order “by itself is not a ground” to declare martial law. “But if you pursue the various activities like extrajudicial killings, summary executions, there may be a reaction that would create an area of lawlessness in certain places…Again, the balancing is very, very important, very crucial.”
“If you respect the Constitution, then it is all right. We are hoping that there will be no other dictators in our country,” added Davide. – Rappler.com