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The Constitution is not the problem

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In the past few weeks, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte have been pushing for Congress to convene itself into a constituent assembly to introduce amendments to the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

Less than 10 months ago, Belmonte would have none of it. He said then that the cha-cha was not among the priorities of the House and that there were more urgent bills that needed to be attended to by the body. He said that the cha-cha issue was “time-consuming and divisive.”

Why the sudden turn-around escapes me, but listening to Belmonte now, one would think he had been a cha-cha proponent all along. But, of course, he was… during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. But six months into the presidency of his new ally, President Noynoy Aquino, he was echoing Aquino’s opposition to it. And now, another flip-flop. That’s the kind of leaders we have in our country.

At least, Enrile has been very consistent in his desire to amend the constitution. Even during the time of Arroyo, he was in favor of charter change, but he said it was not the proper time to do it, knowing that any move to amend the charter at that time would be construed as politically motivated amid speculations that Arroyo would do anything to keep herself in power.

With the heads of both chambers of Congress openly calling for charter change, particularly on the constitution’s economic provisions, and with Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona chiming in for cha-cha, we should all be thankful that the President remains steadfast in his position against cha-cha.

Aquino was quoted by Belmonte himself as saying that he feared that efforts to amend the constitution would be divisive and could paralyze the economy.

As I said in my column on January 1 this year:
“Divisive is actually the key word to why the cha-cha should be repulsed again, cast in cement and dropped in the Philippine Deep where it should lay for a long, long time.

“The Aquino administration needs the cha-cha like a hole in the head. Having just emerged from a highly divisive presidential election and from nine years of abusive and corrupt leadership, the country cannot afford to plunge again into what would certainly be a highly combustible and divisive debate over issues that are not important at this time.

“The Aquino administration must steer clear of dangerous depths and currents in its efforts to bring back the country on the right course. Once the cha-cha debates are reignited, the national attention would be focused again on highly political and divisive issues, instead of being concentrated on the two biggest problems at hand – the worsening poverty and corruption.

“It doesn’t matter if new economic policies are put in place, or a new form of government installed as long as the whole political system remains corrupt, the country will still not move forward. I fully agree with Vice President Jojo Binay that it is not the constitution that is the problem, but a lack of fair and lawful enforcement of its provisions.

“Even if some of the proponents have good intentions, such as former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, there is always the danger that some ill-intentioned individuals and groups would take the opportunity to amend the constitution to suit their ends. Arroyo and her allies, for example, would certainly use all their resources (and they are definitely close to unlimited) to push a shift to parliamentary form of government or removal of term limits on the president and other elective officials, in both cases allowing Arroyo to take a second chance at power.

“The US will also definitely grab at a chance to bring back its bases in the country, and foreign interests can lobby for removing limitations to foreign investments and land ownership. Powerful families can remove restrictions on political dynasties or the provisions on agrarian reform.
“In other words, reviving the cha-cha would open a can of worms, the Pandora’s box, so to speak. The vultures would again be lurking while the people continue to suffer from the pangs of poverty.”

Distracting is the other word that tells us to steer clear of cha-cha. Once Congress opens the debate for constitutional amendments, Aquino’s efforts to go after those who squeezed the government coffers dry in the previous administration would be scuttled and forgotten. The momentum that Aquino’s war against corruption would be lost, and all the dirt and shenanigans of the Arroyo administration that whistleblowers have courageously exposed would be swept again under the rug.

Is there an urgent need to amend the 1987 Constitution’s economic provisions? I don’t think so.
Cha-cha proponents insist that two major provisions of the 1987 Constitution are hampering the country’s ability to attract foreign investors. They want to open ownership of Philippine lands to foreigners and to remove the 40-percent ownership limit of foreigners in Philippine corporations.

Columnist Bill Esposo, in saying that cha-cha is the wrong solution to the wrong problem, was correct in pointing out that China and Vietnam, two of the biggest recipients of foreign investments in Asia, do not allow foreign land ownership.

Many foreign investors have expressed their desire to invest in the Philippines, but are kept from doing so not because of the charter provisions on land ownership and limited foreign equity, but because of other problems that can be corrected without resorting to cha-cha, such as bureaucratic red tape, graft and corruption, extremely high power rates, peace and order problems, inadequate infrastructure, failure to honor contracts, labor unrest, etc.

The constitution is a sacred document that should not be tampered on the whims and caprices of politicians. Unless it is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt that a particular provision is hurting the country and the people, it should not be touched. Laws should be made to enforce the charter provision, and not the other way around.

By Val G. Abelgas




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