Former Manila Mayor and now Party-list Rep. Lito Atienza of Buhay mentioned one good reason, or probably the best reason, not to change the Constitution through Congress, even if supposedly it would be limited to economic provisions alone.
Atienza said that during his recent interpellation of the chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, Liberal Party Rep. Mylene Garcia Albano of Davao City, the latter refused to commit that political provisions would not be touched in case of amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution.
Atienza said he was shocked that Congresswoman Albano would refuse to commit on such a crucial issue when even Speaker Sonny Belmonte and Majority Leader Boyet Gonzales have repeatedly assured us and the nation that only economic provisions would be tackled for amendments.
In particular, the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 1, filed by Belmonte and Sen. Ralph Recto, eyes to amend economic provisions on the 60-40 rule that limits foreign ownership of certain business activities in the Philippines.
The resolution will include the phrase “unless provided by law” in the foreign-ownership provision of the Constitution, particularly land ownership, public utilities, natural resources, media and advertising industries.
But when Atienza asked Albano if she would entertain any moves to amend the political provisions, he said that she replied “that if there was anyone who would file such a motion, then she would accept it and if the majority wants it, then the House will approve it.”
“Knowing the propensity of the House to railroad certain measures, then it would come as no surprise if such a measure gets approved,” Atienza said.
Note that any political amendments, especially on the term limits would allow President Aquino to run for reelection, or extend the term of senators and congressmen.
Such amendments could be inserted in the resolution amending the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution.
This is why the best option for amending the 1987 Constitution—if we are to go through with it at all, which I don’t think is necessary at this time—is through a constitutional convention.
The problem with the constituent assembly mode of changing the charter is that the people can’t trust their politicians in Congress not to mess up such an important political deliberation.
Trust is the key issue, and our people’s sad experience with politics gives them the conviction that we can’t leave the changing of the Constitution all up to Congress (the House and the Senate).
The majority of politicians in Congress both past and present have shown an instinctive ability to put their own self-serving interests before the country.
The constituent assembly mode may, indeed, be the more economical, more expedient way of changing the Constitution, but economical and expedient do not necessarily mean the best way, for in such a mode lies the danger of having like-minded, self-serving members of Congress engage in deliberations only with one another, for one another.
One of the most striking findings in social psychology is that when like-minded people speak and deliberate among themselves, they tend to go to a more extreme point in line with their original tendencies. So if people of one ideological stripe like politicians who share the same interests and commitments congregate to change the Constitution, they might well end up taking an extreme position, like carving out exceptions that would lead to a fire sale of our national assets to foreigners, for example, or politically, extend their terms in power.
Any attempt by like-minded individuals to make amendments to the Constitution may result in the mangling of the entire Constitution. There’s the inherent danger of amendments taking a life of their own, resulting in the total overhaul of the Constitution, perhaps beyond what is necessary or what was initially intended.
You might say this position shows an extreme lack of faith in our political process, specifically in our politicians in Congress. I agree. But can you blame me? Can you blame the public for being suspicious of their legislators after having seen the extent of pork barrel corruption?
It is best for this country and our people that constitutional amendments be proposed through a Constitutional convention, where the people can elect delegates who will represent their interests in the new charter.
This option is not only the proverbial lesser evil. I believe it is also the most legitimate mode of Charter change, because in a democracy the ultimate decision-making power of government should be vested in the people and not in just a small class of them. Congress, convened as a constituent assembly, is too small and elite a class to represent the genuine interests of an entire nation.
But, again, why change the Constitution at all at this time? Just don’t.