“He who guards his mouth and tongue guards himself from evil.”
“He who cannot control his temper is defective in intellect.”
— Ibn Gabirolt
Both quotations are taken from page 9 of Where There’s Smoke, There’s Salmon: The Book of Jewish Proverbs by Michael Levin
These quotations are quite revealing. They are intended for every one of us so we can avoid the pitfalls of repeating errors reminiscent of George Santayana, the Spanish philosopher, who said that those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. I am probably as guilty as the next fellow in not learning from the lessons of history and this is well demonstrated in my book, Ideas, Principles and Lost Opportunities, which details my “Recollection of Moments, which could have influenced the drift of contemporary Philippine history.”
Because of the continuing gaffe of the President on the national and international levels, we are gaining headlines in local media and new attention on the international stage. Of course, what the President says and does place him at the center stage. As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to say, “In politics, any news is good news.” My modification to this statement is … for as long as the news does not charge the origin of the news with rape, graft and corruption, ignorance and stupidity.
The modification features prominently in American media today between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But this is really none of our business, considering we are not Americans.
Methods of revising or amending
Amending the Constitution is our business. Revision or amendment determines the destiny of this administration in the next six years and our country for the next decades, whether the revisions or amendments are good or bad. The approach to these prospective amendments or revisions is definitely crucial in the lives of Filipinos now and the generations to come.
The current Constitution defines the methods of amendments or revisions. These are provided in sections one to four of Article XVII of our Constitution, which enumerates the methods, namely: Congress upon a vote of all its members; a constitutional convention or upon direct proposal by the people through initiative. The easiest way of amending or revising the Constitution is for Congress to constitute itself as a Constituent Assembly by three-fourths votes of all the members of Congress. The Constituent Assembly, popularly known as Con Ass, can propose amendments or revision of the Constitution. Or, through a Constitutional Convention, Con Con, for short, which can also be done by a majority vote of all the members of Congress calling for a Constitutional Convention and submit to the electorate the question of calling for a Constitutional Convention. It can also be facilitated by initiative through a petition filed by 12 percent of the registered voters throughout a country with each congressional district represented by 3 percent of the registered voters therein.
All these methods take time and expense. The debate alone in Congress could last about a year considering the ignorance, incompetence and lack of ability, knowledge and experience in drafting amendments or revisions to the Constitution among majority members of Congress. Considering the penchant of Filipinos, whether legislators or not, to debate even the most minor points, the ratification of the amendments or revisions would take about six months, if the people could be well informed on the proposed changes. So the process will take at least one year and six months before the amendments or revisions could be ratified and operational – which means about the middle of 2018.
Initiative is even more cumbersome and time-consuming in trying to secure the signatures of the desired numbers of registered voters nationally and every congressional district. This process could take forever, so to say.
Is it necessary to amend or revise?
There are many reasons why the present Constitution should be amended or revised. First, it is too lengthy and, to borrow a legalese, it has the prolixity of a code. Constitutions, in modern concept, should be like a bikini – brief enough to cover the fundamentals and broad enough to provide for any possible contingencies. Or, in more understandable terms, it should be brief in form and broad in meaning or substance. It should be written in simple and understandable terms that it could be understood by a simpleton. Why? The reason is simple – a Constitution is written not for scholars or lawyers, it is for the citizens of the country. For now, the ordinary citizens of this country do not even know what the Constitution is all about, much less their rights as embodied in the document. So that the citizens will know the Constitution, it should be short in form, in simple language and to the point.
Probably, if not equally, the more important reason to amend or revise the Constitution is to bring about institutional changes and practices, which have become old and useless. A perfect example of the imperative need for institutional change is the existing unitary and presidential system. It is a problem, not a solution. Decades of the current political system have proven that the concentration of power in the central government has been very bad for the country. Formulation of policy is controlled in Manila. The national government controls the budgetary requirements of local governments. National partisan politics conditions policies and policy implementation. Centralization of power leads to continuing abuse of power by powerful national personalities and the reigning political groups or parties. This must stop if this country is to move forward for the overwhelming majority of Filipinos, not to serve the vested interests of the privileged classes of the country.
So what is the solution? Immediate shift to the federal parliamentary system – that is the solution. Why federal parliamentary system? It provides for the imperative dispersal of government power in the country. The local units of government are more familiar with their problems and their solutions. So they are the best instruments to solve their problems and prescribe their immediate solutions.
Remember, our country is an archipelago split into 7,107 islands. They are populated by different ethnic tribes, speaking their own dialects and with their own peculiar cultures. The diversity is not attuned to solutions provided by a highly centralized government. It is imperative that our people should be given an opportunity to govern themselves, not by a government operated and controlled by what Frantz Fanon called internal colonizers – the convenient successors after the disappearance of foreign colonizers from the scene. This is the correct version of what President Fidel V. Ramos characterized as people empowerment. As the old revolutionary slogan says – all power to the people!
To complete the idea of people empowerment is to put parliamentary system side by side with the federal system. As I have pointed out over and over again – in a presidential system any damn fool can be President as we have seen it in this country, but in a parliament system no fool can be Prime Minister as this official by the nature of the parliamentary institution is the primus inter pares, the first among equals. Necessarily, the Parliament should be unicameral, which is cheaper to maintain and easier to pass laws to solve immediate problems and also easy to remove if it becomes corrupt and incompetent through a vote of no-confidence. The country will not be saddled by a graft-ridden and incompetent administration for six years. One might argue that a corrupt and incompetent administration can be removed by impeaching the President and convicting him. But as shown by our experience, impeachment is not easy and no impeachment followed by a conviction was ever done in the Philippines.
Remember the case of President Erap Estrada? The House of Representatives succeeded in impeaching him but the Senate was poised to acquit him because he had the numbers. His removal was not through conviction by the Senate as required by the Constitution, it was through a coup d’etat led and orchestrated by the patriotic Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines – General Angelo “Angie” Reyes, the controversial legend.
Other strategic institutional changes
The judiciary has been for decades now one of most controversial branches of government, a close second to the executive and legislative. There are a lot of institutional changes, which should be done in this branch of government. Among many are the following: a mandatory provision requiring all courts to decide cases with finality within six months from the day the case is filed, with severe penalty of dismissal for failing to render within the defined time frame, with the added caveat that the decision should be released on the day it is rendered and personal service to all parties to the case; reducing the membership of the Supreme Court to five and limiting its jurisdiction to constitutionality, validity of treaties and death penalty; abolishing court hearings or trial with all cases submitted on written pleadings and affidavits of merit without postponements or extension of time in the filing of pleadings with the penalty that failure to submit pleadings within the designed time frame leads to the submission of the case for decision.
It is imperative that the justice system in this country be revolutionized because as they say, deprive a man of food and he will beg for food, deprive a man of justice and he will join the revolution.
There are many more amendments that must be done with the current Constitution. We will discuss these amendments in succeeding columns. This will suffice for now to avoid intellectual indigestion.