Sovereignty resides in the people. Really?

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AL S. VITANGCOL 3RD

AL S. VITANGCOL 3RD

Black’s Law Dictionary defines sovereignty as “the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which any independent state is governed.” It is likewise “the paramount control of the Constitution and frame of government and its administration.”

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The 1987 Philippine Constitution, in Article II, Section 1 thereof, specifically states that, “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.”

The word sovereign was given importance in our Constitution. In fact, even in the Preamble to the Constitution, it was already mentioned. The Preamble is a preparatory, concise statement of the principles at work in the full text of the Constitution. Our Preamble goes like this –

“We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.”

Compare this with that of the United States of America’s Constitution, where our own Constitution was patterned in part. Its Preamble reads as follows –

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

So the framers of the present Philippine Constitution wanted us Filipinos to be sovereign. But, are we?

When are the Filipino people sovereign? It seems that the Filipino people’s sovereignty operates only when the people act as a political body, consisting of the entire number of qualified voters, and in their collective capacity, choose and elect their government officials and representatives. Nothing more.

How can the Filipino people get the sovereignty away from the rich, the oligarchs, and the powers-that-be? Maybe, not in this lifetime.

Amending the Constitution
The present administration prefers the incumbent congressmen to amend the constitution and shift to a federal form of government. However, there is always that fear that the legislators will introduce amendments that will only protect their own interests and not that of the Filipino people.

Historian and award-winning author Gordon S. Wood, in his book The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, discussed the fundamental transformation of the American political thinking. He illustrated how the founding fathers of the United States rethought their political attitudes and the basic issues of governance.

According to Gordon, a brilliant and visionary lawyer by the name of James Wilson, who later became an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, laid down the first principles of popular sovereignty during the Pennsylvania ratifying convention of the 1787 Constitution of the United States. Wilson opined that,“Perhaps some politician, who has not considered with sufficient accuracy our political systems, would answer that, in our governments, the supreme power was vested in the constitutions… This opinion approaches a step nearer to the truth, but does not reach it. The truth is, that in our governments, the supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power remains in the people. As our constitutions are superior to our legislatures, so the people are superior to our constitutions. Indeed the superiority, in this last instance, is much greater; for the people possess over our constitution, control in act, as well as right.”

The right of the Filipino people to exercise their sovereignty in amending the Constitution finds refuge in the dissenting opinion of then Justice Puno in the consolidated cases of Lambino et. al. vs. COMELEC (G.R. No. 174153) and Binay et. al. vs COMELEC (G.R. No. 174299). Then Justice Puno, in his usual patriotic self, rationalized:

“I wish to reiterate that in a democratic and republican state, only the people are sovereign – not the elected President, not the elected Congress, not this unelected Court. Indeed, the sovereignty of the people, which is indivisible, cannot be reposed in any organ of government. Only its exercise may be delegated to any of them. In our case, the people delegated to Congress the exercise of the sovereign power to amend or revise the Constitution. If Congress, as delegate, can exercise this power to amend or revise the Constitution, can it be argued that the sovereign people who delegated the power have no power to substantially amend the Constitution by direct action? If the sovereign people do not have this power to make substantial amendments to the Constitution, what did it delegate to Congress? How can the people lack this fraction of a power to substantially amend the Constitution when by their sovereignty, all power emanates from them? It will take some mumbo jumbo to argue that the whole is lesser than its part.”

Indeed, the Filipino people have the sovereign power to take a direct action to amend the Constitution, and at the same time protecting the said Constitution from the scrupulous hands of traditional politicians.

Tenacious government officials
Speaking of traditional politicians, it seems that happy days are back for most government officials. One can readily witness vehicles, probably with government officials on board, and guided by police motorcycles, weaving in and out of traffic – to the detriment of other suffering motorists.

While we ordinary mortals are stuck in hellish traffic congestion, these vehicles (oftentimes with private car plates) cruise on our roads with ease, through the handiwork of its police escorts. The police escorts shove the powerless motorists and sometimes direct one to a complete stop, just to please their bosses on board these heavily tinted vehicles. What is so important with these officials?

I understand that PNP Chief “Bato” Dela Rosa had ordered the recall of all policemen, detailed as escorts and close-in securities of “important” personalities. The PNP chief should be “rock” hard in implementing his policies. Otherwise, he will just be one of those giving orders which are not meant to be followed.

The words of Associate Justice Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, the first Filipina to become a member of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, are worth revisiting. She declared, “We start with the incontestable proposition that all top officials of Government – executive, legislative and judicial are subject to the majesty of law. There is an unfortunate misimpression in the public mind that election or appointment to high government office, by itself, frees the official from the common restraints of general law. Privilege has to be granted by law, not inferred from the duties of a position. In fact, the higher the rank, the greater is the requirement of obedience rather than exemption.”

So it has been said. The higher the rank, the greater is the requirement of obedience. Really, now?

Semi-sovereign state
Going back to the issue of sovereignty. A sovereign state is a state whose subjects or citizens are in the habit of obedience to them, and who are not themselves subject to any other (or paramount) state in any respect. The state is said to be semi-sovereign only, and not sovereign, when in any respect or respects it is liable to be controlled by a paramount government.

The power of independent action in external and internal relations constitutes complete sovereignty.

It is admirable that President Rodrigo Duterte is charting an independent foreign policy and breaking away from the clutches of imperialist powers. He stated without flinching – “I am a President of a sovereign state and we have long ceased to be a colony.”

However, the President’s alter egos are always scrambling to re-interpret his words and ultimately put a spin to it. It was a surprise then when very recently, Sec. Perfecto Yasay, in a sudden twist, toed the President’s line relative to our relationship with the United States. He posted on his Facebook account that America has failed us. But, is this a mere lip service?

Philippine independence from foreign powers can be appreciated, not from mere words from our government officials, but from prevailing foreign policies and notably economic dependencies.

My insight tells me that the Philippines had not attained complete sovereignty – but remains to be semi-sovereign, controlled by paramount states like the United States of America and lately, by the People’s Republic of China.

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