[OPINION] Constitution-making as a revolutionary process

The President’s aim is how to use federalism as a ruse to further centralize power under a strong president, namely him. His backers in the House are mainly interested in being able to run for office forever and ever, with no term limits.

Then there are those regional pols who can never win a national election, whether it’s for the Senate or for president, but could be installed as “Prime Minister” in a smaller jurisdiction like a “federal region”.  And, of course, there’s the big business lobby whose single-minded aim is to do away with what they see as the pesky nationalist provisions of the 1987 Constitution.

…And space cadets 

And one must not forget the political experts or academic consultants or dreamers who see the country mainly as a map to be sliced and diced and spliced into 5, 10, 15 or 50 federal regions, each one advancing impeccable reasons why their preferred number makes the most sense.

Coming up with a good constitution is one of the most difficult things to pull off, even if one has a critical mass of well-intentioned people. Unfortunately, the process brings out the crazies. And the worst outcome is when the crazies and the ambitious get together to foist their design on the country.

Panty’s vision

One need not go far to point to the hazards of constitution-making by an alliance of hard-nosed self-interested politicians and space cadets who think society is a blank slate that one can write anything onto.

One proposal in the House committee on constitutional amendments would divide the Philippines into 5 states, with each state headed by a prime minister and with its own constitution, name, capital, flag, anthem and seal.

If Speaker Panty Alvarez had his way, the Philippines would be divided into 14 states, with the capital “somewhere” in Negros, presumably to ensure that visiting foreign dignitaries are treated to the faded glories of Philippine feudalism instead of the gritty realities of Metro Manila. 

One can expect wilder plans to emerge in the Constituent Assembly or “Con-Ass” into which the Senate and the House would transmogrify themselves. If after so many years, these professional politicians could not agree on the design of an autonomous state for the one region of the country that really needed it urgently, the Bangsa Moro region, what more a federal structure for a country of 100 million-plus people, with all the intricate balances and sophisticated structures this system will require?

Constitution-making as revolutionary process

This does not mean we should give up on Charter Change. For there are parts of the 1987 Constitution that need amending, or there are urgent items we must add.

For instance, we need to add or strengthen provisions that would redistribute wealth for the common good, institutionalize a guaranteed basic income and other forms of 21st century social security, create a developmental state, promote genuine gender and cultural diversity, mobilize society against climate change, and bring about the decentralization and deconcentration of political and economic power – whether that would take the form of a federal structure or something else.

This kind of constitutional change, however, must be one that comes from below, where ordinary citizens, not professional politicians, are the ones who initiate and carry the process forward.

In fact, the participation of politicians and elites must be kept to a minimum, perhaps through some kind of negative property qualification, like one’s weight in the convention being negatively correlated with one’s wealth, meaning the less you own or the lesser your income, the greater your vote. One can envision local or regional assemblies taking place over a year, culminating in a national constitutional congress. 

This means that the process of amending the Constitution or creating a new one will have to be a revolutionary process, one that takes it away from the hands of the elites and professional politicians, and places it in the hands of the people.

This may sound idealistic, but the important thing is to work towards something like it, though the resulting process and outcome might fall short of the ideal. In fact, any process is better than the Con-Ass that Duterte and his allies are apparently determined to foist on the rest of us, which is certain to produce an ass of a Constitution. – Rappler.com 

Walden Bello made the only resignation on principle in the history of Congress of the Philippines, after serving in the House of Representatives from 2009 to 2015, owing to principled differences with then president Benigno Aquino III on the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the Mamasapano raid, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the United States. He is currently the National Chairperson of the coalition Laban ng Masa.