FORMER justices of the Supreme Court, legal experts and members of the academe should compose the Constitutional Commission (Con-Com) that will recommend amendments to the Charter, Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino, dean of San Beda School of Law, said.
Fr. Aquino made the recommendation following the proposal of Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to form a 20-man panel of experts to ensure that vested interests won’t dictate changes to the 1987 Constitution through a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass).
Aquino recommended former Chief Justices Hilario Davide Jr., Reynato Puno and Artemio Panganiban; former Supreme Court associate justices Adolf Azcuna, Jose Vitug, Antonio Nachura and Flerida Ruth Romero; University of the Philippines (UP) professor Clarita Carlos; Fr. Eliseo Mercado of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance in Cotabato City; Dean Pablito Sanidad Sr. of the University of Baguio School of Law; Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan; Dean Sedfrey Candelaria of Ateneo de Manila Law School; Professor Antonio La Viña of Ateneo School of Government; former Court of Appeals justice Hilarion Aquino; former senator Rene Saguisag; former Commission on Elections chairman Christian Monsod; international law professor Jeremy Gatdula of the University of Asia and the Pacific; Prof. George Carmona of San Beda and former UP law dean Merlin Magallona.
“These are worthier names than mine to consider for a Constitutional Commission,” Aquino said in a Facebook post.
Aquino, who was also mentioned by Alvarez as a possible Con-Com member, serves as chairman of the Department of Jurisprudence and Legal Philosophy of the Philippine Judicial Academy.
Alvarez is adamant on changing the Constitution through a Con-Ass, in which the two houses of Congress propose changes to the Constitution, instead of a Constitutional Convention which he said would cost P6 billion to P7 billion.
The Speaker, a top ally of President Rodrigo Duterte, was unfazed by the results of a Pulse Asia survey showing that 44 percent of Filipinos were opposed to Charter change, as against 37 percent who were in favor.
“We just need to campaign a little more. We can hit 80 to 90 percent. It’s only a question of explaining to the people, especially in the regions,” Alvarez said in a television interview.
‘No hope in unitary govt’
Alvarez outlined the timeline for Charter change, with the Con-Ass coming up with a revised draft of the new Constitution within a year, a public information drive on the following year and ratification of the proposed Constitution coinciding with the 2019 polls.
“The way I look at it, when we change our form of government, each state will see to it that they will be attracting investors. Why do we insist on this unitary form of government? We have been into this for centuries and look where we are now? We are behind our neighbors,” Alvarez said.
“I would rather take that risk because there is hope there. There’s no hope under a unitary (centralized) form of government. We have been like this for the longest time and we have faced the same problems of poverty,” Alvarez added.
But for the opposition lawmakers, public sentiment against Charter change shows that the supposed benefits of federalism could be a “myth.”
Eight lawmakers led by Rep. Edcel Lagman, who have dubbed themselves as the “Legitimate 8,” said people won’t buy the theory that progress would be achieved under Charter change because they hardly know about federalism.
There is also deep-rooted distrust in Congress amending the Charter through Con-Ass, the mode favored by President Duterte.
Lagman told reporters such distrust won’t be removed by Alvarez’s proposal of forming a 20-man Con-Com composed of presidential appointees, because it would only be an advisory body.
“It is always suspect if people are appointed because they could be beholden to the appointing authority. Yes, that body will give recommendations, but would that be adopted by Congress [sitting as the Con-Ass]?” Lagman said.
‘Don’t count Con-Con costs’
1-Sagip party-list Rodante Marcoleta said federalism’s supposed benefits were suspect considering that only 11 countries were able to make it work.
Under Alvarez’s vision of a federal government, 11 regions or independent federal states will each have the authority to craft laws as well as manage resources.
But 25 percent of the regions’ incomes will still go to the national government, which will retain jurisdiction over foreign affairs, national defense, the police and monetary policy.
“If federalism was really beneficial for a lot of people, don’t you wonder why only 11 out of at least 190 states in the world are under such system? It’s like wanting to expand your house when you don’t even have a kitchen. Every forest has snakes, but must we set all the forests on fire because of few snakes?” said Marcoleta.
Lagman and Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said the cost of changing the Constitution through a Con-Con should not be an issue.
“We should not miserly count centavos and pesos for a very important undertaking like a wholesale revision of the Constitution like the shift to federalism. We must be ready to appropriate and spend the requisite amount for constitutional amendments, which, once ratified in a plebiscite, would last for generations to come,” Lagman said.
Erice warned that the number of people opposed to Charter change would go up with Con-Ass.
“We should convene the Con-Con because the delegates can discuss its implications with the people,” Erice said.