Don’t put a straitjacket on Con-Con!

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ALL efforts to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution should be governed by one primordial principle: Keep the proposed Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) as non-partisan and as independent as possible.

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President Duterte is for a federal government. So are most of the proponents of amending the Charter. However, directing the incoming Con-Con delegates to confine their deliberations to the shift from unitary to federal form of government demeans their work and the Con-Con’s plenary powers. Even if the Con-Con will ultimately decide on the shift, it should be made known that this is their own decision and is not imposed on them.

Sen. Franklin Drilon made a commendable position on this in filing his Resolution of both Houses (RBH) calling for a Con-Con to amend the Charter. He precisely avoided any mention of the proposed shift. Indeed, there might even be Con-Con delegates who’d prefer to retain the present unitary form of government but with amendments. Or, some federalists might prefer a federal-presidential form of government and others, a federal-parliamentary. The economic provisions could also be revisited.

Whatever, senators and congressmen should keep their hands off these issues in their resolutions or bills and just concentrate on how to keep the Con-Con as independent as possible. Let the candidates for Con-Con delegates air their proposed amendments to the electorate and let the voters choose which proposals and which candidates they like best.

Drilon’s RBH has provisions banning incumbent lawmakers from running and political parties from nominating candidates for the Con-Con. (An RBH, once adopted by both chambers, no longer undergoes a bicameral conference committee meeting. This means that a congressman must also file a counterpart of Drilon’s resolution.) Similar provisions were contained in the law calling for the 1971 Con-Con, and the people responded positively by electing mostly independent-minded delegates. Unfortunately, the late President Marcos later intervened in the drafting of the Constitution, which was ratified during martial rule.

I believe, however, that notable persons who have already retired from politics but who have long dreamed of amending the Constitution should be allowed to run for Con-Con delegate. The amendment for them is a matter of principle and not of personal ambition. Among them are former Pangasinan Gov. Oscar Orbos (also a former Executive Secretary and former Congressman), ex-Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, ex-Sen. Nene Pimentel and former Speaker Jose de Venecia. They can lock heads with members of the academe, political scientists and legal eagles who could constitute the Con-Con.

An RBH like that filed by Drilon is the more expedient, less complicated way of enacting a law calling for a Con-Con. This didn’t stop Rep. Gwendolyn Garcia of Cebu from filing House Bill No. 312 for the proposed Con-Con. Both measures, however, are one in proposing that delegates should be elected by region — but with a slight difference. Drilon proposed that the number of delegates elected by region should correspond to the number of congressional districts in the area. Garcia, on the other hand, wants the total number to be exactly 105, with Metro Manila having the most number of delegates with 13.

A regional election of Con-Con delegates will be expensive. I believe that confining the constituency to a province will minimize expenses. The number of delegates in the province should correspond to the number of existing congressional districts therein. Another option is the election of delegates by congressional district.

Oh yes, there’s a proposal that the Con-Con will have a deadline to meet, and it can be forced to finish its work on schedule by limiting its budget to that time frame. I’m no lawyer but isn’t this an abridgement of the Con-Con’s plenary powers? It should have the power to determine its own budget and its deliberations shouldn’t be constricted by a deadline.

For so long, there have been no real honest-to-goodness debates on amending the Constitution. There were surveys showing majority of the people were against it, but there were also surveys showing that almost 90 percent of the respondents didn’t even know the Constitution.

Many candidates for president – Fidel V. Ramos, Ramon V. Mitra, Eduardo Cojuangco, Erap Estrada, JDV, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and even the late Fernando Poe Jr. included constitutional amendments in their platform of government. And yet, when Ramos, Erap and GMA tried to implement this, they were maligned. Now, we have a president who’s determined to finally see the needed amendments take place.

The 1987 Constitution isn’t written in stone. It was drafted mainly as a reaction to martial law. It has many flaws that should be corrected. Let the job of correcting these begin.

19espiloy47@gmail.com

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