The big letdown

Ernesto P. Maceda, Jr.

We have had two chances in our history to write a Constitution (1934 and 1986) and one to revise it (1971). All three were done through the mode of having a dedicated group, elected or appointed, working solely on the Constitution and nothing else.

The most recent attempts at Charter change (under the Arroyo and Aquino presidencies) thru the con-ass mode failed to harness popular support. This was largely due to the perception that they were self serving efforts: perpetuation in power, no genuine political dynasty resolution. They would originate usually from the House (De Venecia, Nograles-Puentevella, Rodriguez, Belmonte).

The prism of self interest. President Rodrigo Duterte was an avowed proponent of the con-con mode for his prized shift to federalism. He confirmed this before, during and after the campaign. Like the public, he believed the con-ass mode to be self serving. Other No-Chance proposals under a con-ass would be the FOI law, political party reform.

Plus, of course, would you seriously expect Congress to vote to diminish its own power? This surely happens under the federal form where the National Congress castrates itself and shares responsibilities (and funds) with the state legislatures. As for the upper house, I don’t see Senators consenting to possibly playing a lesser role in legislation much like the House of Lords in the UK or, worse, being abolished outright if no separate voting by chamber takes place. The model federalism resolution of Senate President Nene Pimentel actually proposes the election of 75 Senators and 350 Congressmen at the national federal level. Incumbents voting for a proposition that dilutes their power? That’s novel. Its also absurd to expect it would happen.

Revision by con-ass may likely bring out the worst in the Legislature. And this likelihood is doubled with the current supermajority in Congress. I can see it now – suspensions of Rules, calls for closing the period of debate, drowned out points of order, calls for a vote. Might of muscle over might of merit. Personal heroes were routinely created or unmasked by the ANC coverages lasting deep into the night of the House’s many blatant and dishonorable past attempts at con-ass. The tyranny of supermajorities on display.

Unparalleled opportunity. No one trusts the House to decide in favor of con-con. It was such pleasing news then that Speaker Alvarez, in his first press conference, turned out to be pro con-con like his friend, the President. And with the Senate firmly on board, the Filipino people had, for the first time since Charter change was openly debated (began in 1997 nearing the end of FVR’s term), an honest chance at meaningful reform.

Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

This may even have been the best opportunity at crafting the Constitution that we will need for the future. The 1934 draft was intended for a commonwealth government. The 1971 version was not given a bona fide chance. The 1986 output was rushed by a President who did not want to rule by revolutionary fiat. There would be no such pressures for this 2016 or 2017 iteration.

The populist President Duterte who, time and again, in just this first month in office has shown himself to be the emblem of popular sentiment, has made a decidedly unpopular choice in this con-ass change of heart. Virtually every sector of society has come forward favoring con-con over con-ass.

Expensive if Amendment, a bargain if Revision. Our own personal position is that the economy, efficiency and expediency of a con-ass are valid arguments only when the proposal is for mere amendments – whether of one or a group of provisions, e.g. economic. For constitutional amendment, it would be inadvisable to spend the P 7 billion price tag of a Con-Con (the price goes down dramatically to around P1 billion if Con-Con elections are synchronized with the Barangay or 2019 elections).

But a Revision of the Constitution deserves more than just the sideline attention of Congress acting as a constituent assembly. If the proposal would be to adopt a new federal structure or to try out the parliamentary form, this would mean throwing out virtually the entire Constitution and all of our present constitutional history. We would be starting blind.

Not as exhaustive. A con-ass that will be taking this on as an added duty will not be as thorough as a con-con with this as its only duty. We should make sure we get the best debate. We will not be served by Congress, with its supermajority, rubber stamping the President’s telegraphed message.

Public opinion is equally crucial. But trimedia is informal and space and time compromised. Essays and researches are sterile efforts where the author, even if attempting a balanced output, basically just debates with himself.

There is no substitute for well reasoned positions presented in an impassioned debate – without the time limitations and whose only guideline is to come up with a majority after making sure all sides are ventilated. Even those with full belief in Federalism should welcome the open, thoughtful and enthusiastic exchange one gets in a Convention. This will only serve to fine tune and produce not only the best version of a Constitution but one that is strong and solid having survived the crucible of intelligent debate. In this sense, a con-con is priceless.

In the previous conventions, we were well-served by the articulate expressions, stentorian tones and ardent convictions of men like Rodrigo, Recto, Bernas, Concepcion, Munoz-Palma, Manglapus, and more. We have to listen to all arguments even if we disagree for this will create a critical history and a rich record to aid in its better understanding later on.

Not democratic. These imperatives are best served if we send delegates who, having presented to us their intentions and their qualifications (matapos mamanhikan), are entrusted with our own sentiments on what we feel we need to see in the document they will be crafting. Did we elect our Congressmen and Senators to do that for us? No. This, above all, is why the President’s change of heart was surprising. Because it confiscated from our hands the one opportunity we had of a meaningful participation in writing the next chapter of our country’s history.



  1. Batang Genyo-Ala-eh

    ConAss or Concon does not matter for me. Even the post EDSA Revolution 1986 Constitution done thru Concon with best and highly patriotic intentions and wisdom of the “Rodrigo, Recto, Bernas, Concepcion, Munoz-Palma, Manglapus, and more” with some Constitutionalists like Feria, Ople and the like did not spare us the pain of a
    confused and convuluted provisions like the “party list, the separation of votation between two legislative chambers on matters that divide our country.
    I believe it is more practical and economical if they focus to propose a specific Amendment like “federalism with parliamentary system of government” thru the ConAss and after which submit for referendum thru the next local elections. After the new structure of govt has been adopted, the new parliament can study and propose further Amendments thru ConAss on the new economic and social issues that impacts on the political structure of a semi-federal semi-presidential form of govt like the French model as proposed by President Duterte.
    This pattern of amendments in the Constitution has been practiced in the US, even I think in some federated governments.