FORMER Senator Edgardo J. Angara, one of the country’s foremost constitutionalists, is one authority to consul on the ongoing efforts by Congress and the Duterte administration to amend the Constitution.
We had a long talk recently at his office at the ACCRALAW Tower, Bonifacio Global City, and he spoke about some old and new positions on Charter change. Like before, he favors amending the Constitution. Unlike before, he no longer confines his proposals to the economic provisions. He’s now amenable to including the political structure.
There have been many attempts to move away from the unitary form of government since 1992 but they all met stiff opposition. Former Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Erap Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo included this in their platform of government but backed off when questions on motives overrode the issues of the necessity and beneficial interest of changing the form of government.
Many may not be aware of it but even Fernando Poe Jr. was for federalism. I don’t blame them for FPJ never discussed his platform during his campaign for President in 2004.
Many proponents of Cha-cha before were hesitant about proposing a controversial shift in the form of government lest it affect consideration of the economic provisions. Neither made much headway until Duterte came along. Perhaps, the stand of the new and popular dispensation has encouraged Angara to venture into a change in the political structure of government.
“I now realize it’s useless to amend the economic provisions without touching the political structure of government; key decisions will still be made by Imperial Manila,” he said.
Does this mean he’s for a shift to a federal form of government? Surprisingly, he isn’t.
“I’ve made a study of this. Federalism will be very costly with each federal state having its own executive, legislative and judiciary. For instance, how can a state composed of Eastern Samar, Northern Samar, Western Samar, Southern Leyte and Leyte afford these departments?” Angara asked.
He leans more towards a parliamentary form of government. He notes that most of the progressive countries have a parliamentary form of government. I won’t be discussing here the reasons why he considers a parliamentary government far superior to a unitary government except for the arguments that it fosters greater political and economic autonomy and that Imperial Manila would no longer monopolize power and decision-making.
Like President Duterte, Angara favors Congress convening as a constituent assembly to propose the constitutional amendments. Some may be surprised at this because he was a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention.
“It’s precisely because I was a Con-Con delegate that I’ve come to know its disadvantages. A constituent assembly works faster and is cheaper,” he argued.
He cautions, however, against haste in amending the Constitution.
“There should be an intensive education campaign. The people should be consulted before proposals are firmed up,” he added.
He questioned the wisdom of forming a constitutional commission that will prepare a draft Constitution that will be submitted to Congress convened as a constituent assembly.
“This will make the Constituent Assembly a virtual rubber stamp,” he said.
He warned against giving too much sway to a constitutional commission.
“That’s what Thailand did. The amendments to the Constitution were prepared by a commission. It was a proposal from up submitted down to the people. So, Thailand now has a new Constitution but the military is still in power. We should avoid committing the same mistake,” Angara said
Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, has given assurances that his committee would not make any hasty move in amending the Charter.
“Many have the impression that we have already finalized the proposed amendments. That’s not true,” Mercado said.
He refused to answer if his committee is already leaning towards some proposals. He said that his committee is still holding public hearings to learn what amendments the people want.
The House has also been hosting forums to further educate its members on the various provisions of the Constitution that could be revisited. Last Wednesday, experts discussed the ramifications of the Charter’s economic provisions.