Some Readings as the Constitution turns 25

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The late E.Z. Izon pulled no punches in this Free Press editorial cartoon on the 1971 Constitutional Convention. The suspicions that hounded the 1971 Constitutional Convention (see Constitutional Convention Or Malacañang Kennel? from January 22, 1972) have come back to haunt every effort to amend the 1987 Constitution. The 1987 Constitution itself a reaction to martial law, has in turn incorporated safeguards that in turn, caused controversies, too (just one example: I wrote about the difficulty of people’s initiative in Institutionalized people power –more fully in Institutionalizing people power— in 2006).

Yet the Constitution is, ultimately, a document: and relies for its effectivity on people abiding not just by the letter, but the spirit, of the basic law. I wrote about this in Poisoned fruit of the Constitution, in 2008. Even the best constitutional design requires people to live up to its precepts.

On February 2, we will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ratification of the 1987 Constitution. I’ve been writing on the Constitution –and have participated in some of the controversies leading to passionate public debate– since the 10th anniversary of the Constitution in 1997, then a time when there were efforts to amend it. In the fifteen years since, the debates have come back, time and again, and the public reaction has likewise been passionate, and returned, time and again, to central themes: mistrust of the executive chief among them (see my entry, The worm within); and a kind of unshakeable faith in the near-magical properties attributed to a constitution (see my column, Assessing Adrian).

The 1971 Constitutional Convention was faced with a dilemma, once martial law was proclaimed: should it continue its work, despite some of the delegates having been arrested, or discontinue its work? Raissa Robles wrote about this dilemma (see In 1971 and 2006, New Charters Designed to Keep Embattled Presidents in Power) and the outcome of the 1971 ConCon when, 273 out of 320 delegates voted to approve the Marcos constitution. What followed is chronicled in my blog entry, Before the bar of history and Why revolts fail. As it turned out, the 1973 Constitution was amended numerous times and operated in a system where the charter provided window-dressing for one-man rule.

As the end days for Marcos loomed, besides the question of the succession, there was the question what sort of regime should replace his rule –and the debate included whether to restore the 1935 Constitution, retain the 1973 Constitution, or proclaim a revolutionary government.

The points raised, and the proponents in the debates, can be found in my articles, Wedded to an old Charter, in Accommodating new forces, and in ’35, ’73 or a new start?.

Finally, President Corazon C. Aquino decided to proclaim a revolutionary government. She abrogated the 1973 Constitution, and proclaimed a provisional Freedom Constitution which provided for an appointed Constitutional Commission to draft a new constitution. An interesting article from the time is Napoleon Rama’s Cory’s Proclamation No. 3, from April 19, 1986.

Since the Constitution was ratified in 1987, there have been proposals to restore a two-term presidency (Ramos), for revisions to the economic provisions of the charter (Estrada), for the creation of a unicameral, parliamentary government and for a federal government (Arroyo). Its provisions on impeachment (made easier), on judicial review (made all-encompassing), on martial law (made more difficult), have been tested in spectacular fashion. Out of desperation, or genuine conviction, whatever the inspiration for proposals to amend the constitution have been, they have all foundered on the actual mechanics of amendment. If Claro M. Recto, president of the convention that drafted the 1935 Constitution once observed,

…[T]he Constitution is not, and should not be, an idol under strict taboos. It is not, and should not be, a strait-jacket for the growing and developing nation which it was made to serve. The Constitution itself outlines the procedure for its own amendment, and it thus expressly devoted to the principle that it is neither inviolable nor permanent, but a working instrument to secure the general welfare of the people.

Then past controversies have shown, what is also required is a national consensus, and that has proven difficult to achieve.

Additional Readings:

The Philippine Constitutions, in the Official Gazette

1987, 1973, 1935 Philippine Constitutions Comparison Matrix

The Malolos Constitution, by George Malcolm

Constitution Day, February 7, 1953 by Teodoro M. Locsin

Farewell, My Lovely, July 26, 1986 by Teodoro M. Locsin

The referendum scorecard 1935-1987 and An Abnormal Return to Normality, The perpetual avoidance of opportunity, and Form and substance and Credentialing democracy: or, the institutionalization of “balato”, and also, Philippine political culture, in this blog. Also, my columns, The Philippines is OK and A more balanced Philippines.

Arroyo’s Charter Change moves copied from the Marcos book, by Raissa Robles (see sidebar of transcripts of proceedings of the ConCom’s plenary sessions, 2005)

Matrix House Proposed Charter Amendments

Government and the State, in ASEAN Law Association

The three most important features of the Philippine legal system that others should understand, by Salvador T. Carlota

Electoral Politics in the Philippines, by Julio Teehankee

Hyper-Presidentialism: Separation of Powers without Checks and Balances in Argentina and the Philippines by Susan Rose-Ackerman, Diane A. Desierto, Natalia Volosin

Electoral System, Parties and Bureaucracy: The Missing Links in the Charter Change Debate, Senate Economic Planning Office

Legal and Constitutional Disputes and the Philippine Economy by Gerardo P. Sicat

Cleaving Clientelism: Is there an emergent cleavage in Philippine Politics? by Mark R. Thompson

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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