[OPINION] Facing charter change head on

Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M, Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco

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[OPINION] Facing charter change head on
We must be ready to actively participate in the hearings and consultations to be initiated by the Consultative Committee


President Rodrigo Duterte issued in December 2016 Executive Order No. 10 to organize a Consultative Committee on constitutional reform. But this body has only recently commenced its work because members of this committee were named only last January. This delay is understandable given that President Duterte had a lot on his plate in 2017.

But President Duterte is now making up for lost time and has directed the Consultative Committee to produce a draft federal constitution by June of this year. The plan is to announce this draft to Congress and to the people in his State of the Nation address in July.

Clearly, the Charter Change process is well under way. But we must remember that revising the Constitution encompasses a broader political reform effort. It is, in a sense, a reset button because the scope of what aspects of our political system can be changed is wide open.

For instance, the Consultative Committee reaped public approval recently when they voted to institute a self-executory provision regulating political dynasties. But former chief justice Reynato Puno’s declaration that this particular provision is a condition sine qua non in establishing a federal system in the Philippines caused a stir, given that dynastic politicians dominate political leadership in the country.

Naturally, President Duterte being the patriarch of a political dynasty, expressed some apprehension over this contemplated provision in the draft federal constitution.

The reality is that pathologies in a constitution can emerge during its reign. These pertain to provisions in the constitutional text itself that may have been designed with good intentions but have eventually become debilitating to the political system it purports to govern. Our 1987 Constitution is no exception.

In fact, Dr Raul C. Pangalangan, the former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Law and presently a judge in the International Criminal Court, has shed light on one such organic irregularity in our Charter, a “built-in contradiction between the economic and the governance clauses of the Constitution.”

This pathology Pangalangan has identified dovetails with the “economic” amendments agenda which is fundamentally grounded on the belief that de-nationalizing economic sectors in the country will bring in a deluge of foreign direct investments (FDI).

In a letter submitted to the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, the Makati Business Club, one of the more vocal and ardent promoters of economic liberalization, cited 3 major impediments to FDI growth in the Philippines: “(1) the perception of high levels of corruption in government; (2) restrictive foreign ownership rules; and (3) uncompetitive labor compliance costs.”

Clearly, simply removing foreign ownership restrictions would not automatically inundate the economy with FDI because the other two obstacles must be addressed as well. And given that the Philippines currently ranks 101st in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, opening industries to foreign ownership without the accompanying governance and labor reforms will probably only result in modest, if not minimal, growth in FDI levels. 

But what about other pathologies? Let us look at our national language. Article XIV lays out an interesting arrangement on this subject that needs to be reconsidered.

We have one national language, which is Filipino (See Section 6). But we also have two official languages, which are Filipino and English (See Section 7). And no law has ever been passed to remove the status of the latter as such. In fact, until now the language of government, of legislation, and of the courts in the Philippines continues to be English.

Then, we also have auxiliary languages such as Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Waray, Tausug, and so forth, which are all contemplated to function as a third-level means of communication within the regions where they are spoken.

But this neat grouping of Philippine languages is not that accurate. The fact is most Filipinos commonly relate with English because it is the official language widely used by the state. Moreover, the use of Filipino as the language of the nation is suspect because it is basically a Tagalog clone. And hence it is very rarely spoken by nationals outside the Tagalog region.

A provision that is inconsistent with the actual conditions and sentiments of the people has no place in the Constitution. Correspondingly, our experience of languages spoken in the country necessitates a rethinking of the constitutional designation of Filipino as a national language.

Is it still necessary to have just one artificially created national language given the richness of our linguistic heritage? Or is it now more appropriate for our language diversity to be officially acknowledged because it reflects the narrative that is real to all Filipinos? A constitution could recognize more than one national language after all.

Additionally, should English now be unequivocally accepted as the lone official language of the Philippines because doing so more accurately reflects the reality in our day-to-day lives? English is obviously a colonial language. But considering that American colonization is a fact of life that is universally shared in the Philippines, the designation of English as such would certainly be more unbiased for all Filipinos than Filipino.

With Filipinos now being genuine citizens of the world, claiming the lingua franca of the day as our one and only official language makes practical sense. Plus, insisting on having just one national language seems anachronistic. Our nationhood now ought to be founded on deeper grounds than just having a common native tongue. Indeed, it is only fair to demand that the linguistic and cultural diversity of the country be prominently manifested in our Constitution.

In sum, as the principal actors in the constitutional reform process, we must now focus on painstakingly diagnosing pathologies in our national charter. Furthermore, we must be ready to actively participate in the hearings and consultations to be initiated by the Consultative Committee. So that whatever happens in 2019, or even in 2022, one outcome we can all look forward to is this: more Filipinos with a deeper appreciation of the 1987 Constitution. – Rappler.com

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