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You are at: Home > News Articles > Amend the Constitution

Amend the Constitution

from The Manila Times, June 3, 2000

The author is chairman of the Executive Council, Bangsa Moro Islamic Party (BMIP) and president, Muslim Bar Association of the Philippines, Inc.

SENATORS Francisco Tatad, John Osmena ,and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. have proposed a constitutional convention which will amend the present Constitution to primarily adopt a federal form of government. Already their proposal has met opposition. Some object because the constitutional convention will open up every provision to amendments and others argue that while there may be a basis to amend the Charter, it is not however the time to do so. Others still declare that there is nothing to amend in the fundamental law which is the repository of all solutions to the country's problems. And still others declare that such a move has already been rejected by the people who forced President Joseph Estrada to shelve his program to amend the, fundamental law.

The Estrada proposal, which was to allow foreigners to purchase and own private lands in the country, was anathema to almost every respectable Filipino. The rejection of the Estrada proposal is not the gauge of the real sentiments of the public towards Charter changes. And contrary to what the opponents of Charter changes claim, the present Constitution is rather the source of our country's ills and maladies. The 1987 Constitution not only failed to address and resolve, but ex- acerbated major problems of the country, namely: 1. agrarian and labor unrest; 2. economic depression; 3. insurgency; 4. separatist movement; 5. graft and corruption; and 6. inefficient government service.

The government by the new Constitution failed to fulfill the lofty goals in its preamble. The patrimony of the nation, instead of being conserved for the coming generations, is further dissipated with the allowance of foreign exploitation of our natural resources (minerals, petroleum, mineral oils), and ex-Filipinos who are already aliens, to ac- quire private lands in the country. Our difficulty in overcoming our status as a neo-colonial state, the political and economic policies of which are dictated by US interests through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), is aggravated by the state's economic and industrial policy (Article 12, Sec. 1 of the Constitution) which Filipino economist Alejandro Lichauco points out to be attuned to US economic interests.

Basic rights and freedoms which the people expected to be reinstituted and institutionalized in the new Constitution, found no positive and operational guarantee. The principle of due process of law was rendered ineffectual with the enactment of Proclamation Order No.3 on March 25, 1986 which created the Presidential Commission on Good Government and vested it with the power to sequester private properties before judgment, even on mere suspicion that property or wealth is ill-gotten (Article 18, Sec. 26 of the Constitution).

Agrarian and industrial workers, long oppressed under the Marcos regime, found no improvement under the present law. The present labor laws are basically the same laws under President Marcos. The right to strike is still curtailed with compulsory arbitration as the main mode of dispute settlement. Collective bargaining which gives life and full essence to the right to strike still has to be legislated for its implementation and growth. Until collective bargaining is adopted as the main mode of dispute settlement, the right to strike will remain illusory and the workers will continue to be deprived of their only potent weapon against management indifference, exploitation and harassment. Unless the industrial relations set up is improved, industrial peace will continue to be a vain hope. Abolition of the right to strike amounts to the perpetuation of a system of forced labor.

The agrarian policy (Article 13, Sec. 4) embodied in the Constitution has been rejected by farmer and peasant groups.
Foreign loans which have burdened the country tremendously since Marcos and which the Filipino people will shoulder for decades, continue to pile up. Contracting loans under the new Constitution, instead of being placed under careful scrutiny, does not even require the approval of Congress (Ibid, Article 7, Sec. 20).

The problem of squatting in urban areas, rather than be given a very thorough study, weighing carefully the plight of squatters and the right of property owners, has been "solved" by a grant of legal protection to squatters. This has led to the loss of ownership of many urban j lands belonging to private individuals and corporations.

The separatist movement in the Southern Philippines, because of Article X of the Constitution which emasculated the Tripoli Agreement, gained tremendous support from the erstwhile pro-autonomy Moro groups. A petition protesting the violation of the said agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front was filed before the Supreme Court by Bangsa Moro leaders in 1989, but the Supreme Court ruled that 99 percent of the accord has already been implemented, contrary to facts.

Today, a full-scale war is raging in the Southern Philippines between the MILF and the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has already claimed hundreds of lives and has driven almost 300,000 civilians from their homes. Though the MNLF appears to be supportive of the government, it can suddenly join the MILF fighters. The former still has observer status in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and it may persuade the OIC to support independence for the Bangsa Moro, which will be a radical deviation from the former's commitment to support only autonomy, based on the Tripoli Agreement. Other Moro groups such as the Abu Sayyaf have emerged or are emergent because of the failure of the present Constitution to provide an acceptable solution to the Moro problem. Whether they are mere bandits without any politics or otherwise is beside the point. They are a fact of life and in the past months have loomed larger than life before the international forum at that. They have popped out because the political scenario has been conducive to them.

The CPP-NPA, for the past few months, has attacked police stations in different parts of the country and has been taking police officers hostage. The offensive policy of the CPP-NPA is apparent from the series of raids they have conducted. Without a doubt the present Constitution has failed to put an end to the insurgency problem.

Graft and corruption in government is as rampant as before. There is no constitutional prohibition to the appointment of government officials to other positions after they have been removed from their offices on charges of graft or incompetence. Several government officials who were charged with such crimes and perforce resigned were later appointed to other and even higher offices, completely exonerated of any criminal or civil liability. On the other hand, pursuant to the re-organization plan authorized by the Constitution, civil service eligibles were terminated without cause (Article 18, Sec. 16). These instances greatly demoralize dedicated and honest civil servants, not to mention the erosion of public confidence and trust in the government.
In the past 13 years, technology has tremendously developed and media has reduced the world to a mere crystal ball. Data which was not available then is now easily accessible in a matter of minutes. The growing focus on the criminal dimension of international law, particularly the issue of criminal jurisdiction, due to the advancement of computer technology and its daily use by men and women in almost all walks of life the world over, with the "I Love You" virus as just one case in point, needs the updating of this Constitution, to say the least.

A Constitution is the fundamental law of the land. It provides the legal, political, economic and social framework which shall be the basis of all governmental policies. All organs of the state have to function within such framework. Congress for instance, cannot legislate beyond its jurisdiction. The same is true with the executive and judicial branches. A defective framework cannot provide the positive direction for the government and unfortunately, that is the kind of framework that the present constitution has provided. It has therefore failed to establish a feasible political, economic, and social paradigm necessary to attain peace and prosperity.

It is thus not only ripe but imperative to amend the 1987 Constitution. The framers provided that five years after its adoption, the present Charter may be amended. Thirteen years have passed since its ratification and therefore it is time to amend it.

The 1935 constitution was drawn up by American nationals, dictated by the American government. The 1973 constitution was the instrument of the Marcos dictatorship and rejected by the Filipino people. The 1987 constitution was not representative of the people as it was pro- posed by 50 handpicked individuals.

A new Constitution, drafted by elected representatives, under an atmosphere of freedom, at the inception of the 21st century, will indeed be auspicious and the most significant Charter of the Filipino people.


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