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Drop attempts to bastardize the Constitution

Before tinkering with the Constitution, legislators should prioritize reforms to promote honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against corruption.

Feb 5, 2024

Tita C. Valderama

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5-minute read

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After saying a year ago that it is possible to attract foreign investments without changing the 1987 Constitution, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s change of mind to push for amending some of its economic provisions is contributing to the current political divide.

The Philippine Constitution turned 37 years old last Friday, Feb. 2, but instead of commemorating its ratification in 1987, the country’s top leaders have been relentless in pressing for its amendment to the point of bastardizing the country’s fundamental law.

More important and pressing than amending the Constitution, Congress should pass an enabling law to implement Article II Section 26, or the anti-dynasty provision, and revive the provision in the 1935 Constitution that prohibits switching of political party affiliation.

The 1987 Constitution states in Article II Section 26: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

However, given the current composition of Congress, which is dominated by political families, it would be impossible for an anti-dynasty measure to take shape.

It has been estimated that 70 to 80% of Congress members and more than 50% of all elected local government officials are from political families or have ties to legislators affiliated with as many as three prior congresses.

The Philippine Institute for Development Studies has said that putting limits on political dynasties would “regulate self-serving and opportunistic behavior and promote effective and accountable governance.”

Studies have established a link between poverty and the existence of political dynasties. The studies show that the prevalence of political dynasties, particularly in provinces outside Luzon where accountability is weak and investments are low, leads to deeper poverty and underdevelopment.

Before they decided to push for Charter change (Cha-cha), Marcos and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri contended that recently enacted laws already ease foreign participation in certain industries.

Among those laws are the amendments to the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, the Foreign Investments Act and the Public Service Act. When these measures were pending, the administration said these were intended to attract more investments, generate employment, introduce innovation, lower prices, and improve the quality of goods and services.

The Senate’s version of Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 looks more acceptable than any of the several versions passed by the House of Representatives. Zubiri’s proposal simply adds the phrase “as may be provided by law” in three provisions of the 1987 Constitution: Section 11 of Article XII or the National Patrimony and Economy; Paragraph 2, Section 4 of Article XIV or the Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture and Sports; and Paragraph 2, Section 11 of Article XVI or the General Provisions.

RBH 6, which is scheduled for a public hearing this week, does not directly amend the Constitution but allows Congress to enact measures to address restrictions on foreign ownership in public utilities, educational institutions, and the advertising industry.

RBH 6 came about purportedly to “avert a constitutional crisis” as allies of House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez have been actively soliciting signatures for a petition for a people’s initiative that would potentially exclude the Senate in amending the Constitution.

With the House’s attempts at calling a constituent assembly and constitutional convention for Cha-cha already on the back burner, Romualdez and his allies quickly said they were setting aside the people’s initiative and supporting Zubiri’s RBH 6. Some have dared the Senate to approve it, and the House will readily concur.

They wanted the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes chaired by the president’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, to stop its investigation of the alleged bribery in the gathering of signatures for a people’s initiative because their deceptive machinations are coming out, with testimonies on how they were offered money and promised other benefits in exchange for their signature on the petition.

Why they are obviously desperate to open the 1987 Constitution to amendments is concerning. Are they really for amendments to the economic provisions only? Can they really set aside their ulterior motives of introducing political amendments to tinker with the term limits and perpetuate themselves in power?

Cha-cha advocates have not sufficiently explained how the proposed amendments to bring in more foreign capital would be advantageous to local industries, the farmers and, ultimately, the Filipino consumers. What’s in it for the ordinary Filipinos who are struggling with rising prices?

Before tinkering with the Constitution, legislators should prioritize reforms to promote honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against corruption. These reforms are vital tools to promote good governance by actually applying measures to promote more accountability, transparency, participation and predictability.

The IBON Foundation research group recently said the proposed amendments “will only bring more of the same foreign investment liberalization that has stranded the country’s development for decades and left millions of Filipinos struggling amid a jobs crisis.”

IBON said that the foreign investment the government hopes to attract with the proposed amendments “will only benefit local oligarchs and foreign corporations,” noting that foreign direct investments “contribute to domestic development only when strictly regulated and best in the context of a national industrialization policy — as done historically and currently by the world’s biggest industrial powers.”

Indeed, relaxing the restrictions in the economic provisions of the Constitution is not the end-all and be-all of attracting foreign investments into the country.

As IBON Executive Director Sonny Africa said: “With decent politicians and good economics, Charter change won’t be needed. But with indecent politicians and bad economics, no amount of Charter change will ever be enough.”

 

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.

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