Con or Ass: We can misbehave!

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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Con or Ass: We can misbehave!
For charter change, a convention of appointed members would still be perfectly constitutional

While it re-writing a Constitution, especially when the goals are urgent, should not take as much time as it takes the Supreme Court to dispose of some cases that have languished in its dockets for some time now, or for the Legislature to pass needed laws that it is not disposed to enact, neither should it be hurried, nor its drafters harried!

And now the debate rages over whether it should be Con – a Constitutional Convention – or Ass – Congress exercising its so-called “constituent powers”: its power to amend or to revise the Constitution. Many, it seems, prefer a Convention. I do too, but really, the main reason we have for choosing Con over Ass turns out to be unconvincing in the light of wicked realities on the ground. Independence, credibility – these are the key descriptors of a convention. That is the desideratum.  

It is not necessarily the reality. The Philippines is not a body of independent-minded citizens who make choices and cast their votes without fear or favor.

On the ground, the country is a quiltwork of bailiwicks, fiefdoms over which petty politicians reign supreme. The elections to the delegates of the convention that drafted the 1973 Constitution should provide us with a ready reference. There is no doubt that there were some very learned and thoughtful people there, but there is equally no doubt that in many provinces, if not most, voters sent to the Convention persons who had hardly ever written a draft resolution, let alone a draft Constitution, but who enjoyed the anointing of politicians!

Then what the convention becomes is an assembly of proxies of the members of Congress or of local politicians. One great virtue of the 1987 Constitution is precisely that it was drafted by handpicked commission members truly illustrious, learned and honorable: the likes of Davide, Azcuna, Maambong, Monsod, Bacani, and others. It has to be pointed out that nowhere does our present Constitution require that a convention be constituted by elected delegates.  A convention of appointed members would still be perfectly constitutional.

Why the rush?

CHANGE OF PLANS. President Rodrigo Duterte foregoes his earlier preference to call for a Constitutional Convention to switch to federalism. He now wants a Constituent Assembly composed of sitting lawmakers. Photo by Ace Morandante/PPD

The Ass, it is argued, get things done faster. But why should we be in a rush, unless we want to go about the tedious and dangerous rigmarole of re-writing our Constitution periodically?

Festina lente…Make haste slowly. The Romans were wise, and they could have been giving us sound advice now. When you have a senator like Manny Pacquiao who is now obsessed with preparing for his next bout – after having solemnly promised the electorate that he would be a full-time senator – and many members of the House of Representatives who are nowhere near the premises of the Legislature while bills are debated, how do you get Their Honors to work on the re-writing of a Constitution?

Speaker Alvarez has done a Solomon: Ass still, but add to that a Com — a Constitutional Commission that will study, debate, tear at each other and finally submit to Congress a draft of the revisions.  What the Speaker has therefore proposed is some kind of a tertium quid, a middle way.

The members of the Commission will be selected and appointed by the President. But quite clearly, eventually, it is Congress’ call and it has happened many a time in the past that carefully crafted drafts are eventually mangled beyond recognition after coming from floor debates and the horse-trading that is endemically part of Legislative business!

I am flattered that Speaker Alvarez mentioned my name among the possible members of the Commission, but there are others who should be in it as well: Adolf Azcuna, Hilarion Aquino, Artemio Panganiban, Antonio Nachura, Clarita Carlos, Eliseo Mercado, Tony La Vina, Sed Candelaria, and millennial like Karen Jimeno, and other truly thoughtful people who think aright, write succinctly and will not have to be called upon when the Constitution is enshrined to have to explain what shall have been written!

Con or Ass? Ass alone, or Ass with Com? Really, it all depends on the way we behave, and I pray that we all behave well, as befits a nation that gets to work on its fundamental law, its basic political contract! –


The author is Dean, Graduate School of Law, San Beda College and professor VI, Cagayan State University.


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