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A NEW CONSTITUTION? ...First a few questions

By Carlos A. Arnaldo
January 18, 2018


The televised Senate hearings on the issues concerning the proposed Constitutional Convention recently, were highly informative and helped to clarify the issues at stake. Prestigious guests, former Chief Justice Hilario Davide and former Chief Justice Reynato Puno graced the occasion with their astute observations based on decades of experience and juridical matters. Their participation raised the level of the debate.

CJ Davide declared that the 1987 Constitution was excellently formulated and needed no amendments. He further discouraged seeking  a federal form of government as this would destroy the harmony of the present unitary structure.  “A shift to federalism is a lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, a leap to hell.”

CJ Puno, on the other hand, was more positive, but preferred a constitutional assembly elected by the people for that purpose.

Before revising or re-writing the national constitution of 1987, there are a number of prior questions:

1.      Should the constitutional revision be performed by a constituent assembly, that is, by the actual House of Representatives and Senate constituting themselves as the legal entity to amend the Constitution. As shared by former Chief Justice Renato Puno, the House of Representatives constituting itself as a Constitutional body seems to be self-serving, even incestuous, for it is too prone to formulate articles favourable to their profitable future, their posts, the extension and emoluments of that post.  It’s like saying, ‘Here, write your own pay checks!’

2.      Related to this question is whether the House of Representatives and the Senate should vote together as one constitutional body, or separately as the House and the Senate. If they vote together, in the case of the Philippines where Representatives are over 250 and the senate comprises only 24 members, the House will outvote the Senate on any issue. In other words, the Senate vote is so ‘melted’ into the House vote that it hardly counts. The Senate vote is in effect the same as the House vote.

3.      Or the Constitution can be revised by a body elected by the people for this purpose.

January 16, the House of Representatives voted to transform  itself as the constitutional assembly (con-ass), thus challenging CJ Puno’s warning  that such a body would effect, work to profit itself. Reactions on social media can be summarised as ‘Kapalmuks.’

In turn, the Senate may decide to ignore this act of the House, and their proposition will then lapse into nullity, and we are back to square one. Or the Senate may like the idea of becoming a constituent Constitutional body and also enact its own transformation. Then the two lawmaking  bodies together become the Constitutional assembly. If the Senate shall do so, it will also very likely opt for separate voting on all issues, thus to maintain its force as the upper legislative body and enforce its vote on the issues at stake.

These are the preliminary questions to be settled before tackling specific issues, such as federalism, constitution of substate legislative bodies, and various economic issues raised over the years.

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