Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Shall we dance?

Once again, our legislators shall dance to the tune of the Cha-cha (Charter Change). After the President’s announcement in her fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in 25 July 2005, it is now “all systems go” for our legislators to revised/amend the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass). This was cheered by most members of the administration, especially cha-cha stalwarts like Former President Fidel Ramos and Speaker Jose de Venecia. On the other hand, opposition figures, plus a majority of the Senate, jeered.

I heard and read a lot of interesting points and comments from distinguished scholars and academicians, politicians, and grandstanders for and against cha-cha.

One side says cha-cha is good because it will amend some “restricting” articles and sections of the 1987 constitution. Also, cha-cha that will lead to a change in the form of government into federal-parliamentary would boost economic growth in the countryside, at the same time, would solve hostilities in the south. According to them, it would also contribute in the decongestion of the metropolis, which is one of the President’s ten-point agenda.

On the other hand, others say that charter change may not be the solution to the lingering problems of the country. They say that it does not promise anything but a mere change in the form of government. And a change in the form of government does not guarantee solution to systemic problems like poverty and unemployment.

I was a former advocate of Charter Change, but not through Con-Ass, but through ConCon (Constitutional Convention), wherein the electorate would vote the members of a constitutional convention, a body that will review and amend our current constitution. I prefer this because a Con-Ass would only advance the interests of the Congressmen and a few of their constituents. Also, the current roster in the House of Representatives does not have the institutional capability to review the constitution. As far as I know, no congressman is an expert of constitutional law. If there is any, the intellectual debates will only be concentrated on these few individuals… And a few more hours shall be wasted on grandstanding and non-sense parliamentary inquiries. The election of a con-con would bring out the best and the brightest constitutional experts and advocates. Though I should say that it also doesn’t guarantee that a Con-con would bring out a perfect roster, but at least, it will lessen the grandstanding.

However, after hearing and reading from some academicians, I realized that constitutional change doesn’t guarantee improvement in our systems or economic growth. A known expert in Philippine politics said that in order to prepare our institutions to a parliamentary form of government, we should develop a certain level of maturity in our political party system. A parliamentary form of government is most effective under a political system with strong political parties.

Also, after what has been revealed in the past months, I realized that the assurance for a “quality” roster in the constitutional convention has dwindled. Following the admission of some of our political leaders that it is common practice to talk to COMELEC (Commission on Elections) officials during vote-counting, vote-rigging via coercion, persuasion, or bribery has become more of a reality than myth. Now, there are qualms as to whether the COMELEC can produce the real results to the people, should an election for constitutional convention takes place. This doubt over the COMELEC’s capability shall persist unless drastic change takes place.

These are primarily the reasons that convinced me to side with “status quo” in terms of charter change. Now is not the time to change the constitution. There are prerequisites to charter change, and according to some experts, these prerequisites are not yet accomplished.

The President may have her reasons for announcing cha-cha. Whatever it is, I hope it is for the benefit of our national interest and not only the interests of the “chosen few.” Let’s just hope that Congress can dance the cha-cha well.

These are just opinions of a short-sighted (and near-sighted) young man. Objections are welcome.

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