For or against Cha-cha

MANY have pointedly asked: Are you for or against Charter change (Cha-cha)? Our 1987 Constitution is not perfect. So, like many well-meaning citizens, I am in favor of perfecting it. But like everything else, the right thing should be done in the right way at the right time and for the right reasons. Process, timing and motive are as important as substance.

The right way. The 1987 Constitution provides three ways or modes of change: (1) people’s initiative (PI), (2) constituent assembly (Con-ass) and (3) constitutional convention (Con-con). In 1997 and 2006, determined attempts were made to shift our system of government from the presidential to the parliamentary via the PI. However, the Supreme Court struck them down, due to constitutional and legal flaws.

The Court held that a people’s initiative is an institutionalization of people power; hence, only the people themselves can use it, if their representatives fail or refuse to heed their clamor for Charter change via the two other methods (Con-ass and Con-con). The PI procedure prescribed by the Constitution and the law (Republic Act 6735) must be strictly observed. Only minor amendments may be the subject of a PI. Complicated revisions altering the philosophy, nature or structure of the government are not allowed under this mode.

Under the Con-ass mode, Congress itself, “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members,” may directly propose the Charter changes. Last June 2, the House of Representatives approved by viva voce vote House Resolution 1109 proposing the calling of a Con-ass, thereby making many people nervous and wary.

However, I think this resolution did not give any legal advantage to the proponents. First, with or without it, Congress may still propose constitutional revisions. Hence, it is really a superfluity. Second, it merely exposed the inability of the presidential allies to muster the three-fourths vote required from Congress. HR 1109 was not voted by three-fourths of even just the lower house. Worse for them, it galvanized opposition to the Con-ass and worsened the credibility of the administration.

On the third mode, the Constitution says that Congress may call a Con-con “by vote of two-thirds of all its members,” or submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention, “by majority vote of all its members.” The earliest that a Con-con could be convened is after the 2010 elections. Electing Con-con delegates during the 2010 elections would subject the constitutional issues to partisan politics.

The right time and reason. Indeed, many provisions of our present verbose Constitution need revisiting. However, a shift to the parliamentary system has gotten harsh negative reaction because of the nagging suspicion that it is being misused for term extension. Per the latest SWS survey on June 19-22, 70 percent of our people are against extending the reign of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Worth objectively studying too are proposals for the federal system, the unicameral legislature and the relaxation of the nationalistic provisions championed by Speaker Prospero Nograles. Then, there are the many blanks to fill up when the Constitution speaks of “as prescribed by law.”

Our people are wary of Cha-cha before the 2010 election. However, after a new president shall have been credibly elected, our people I think would be willing to listen to proposed changes that are selfless and well reasoned.

Because many of these proposals require thorough study, a Con-con – whose members are elected, or even partly appointed as proposed by lawyer Romulo Macalintal – should be the preferred Cha-cha mode. I believe that evolving a constitution that shall truly embody the aspirations and ideals of our people require the full time and attention of officials elected or appointed precisely for that purpose only.

Some say that a Con-con is expensive. I say, however, that since we now pay billions for the election, compensation, allowances and pork barrel of solons who enact ordinary laws, should we not be willing to pay for the election and compensation (no allowances and pork barrel) of delegates who would revise the most fundamental of our laws?

In sum, I favor the convening of a Con-con composed of delegates chosen after the 2010 elections.

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Congratulations to Dean Custodio O. Parlade for having been named Philippine representative to the International Court of Arbitration with situs in Paris, under the auspices of the International Chamber of Commerce. This is an international recognition of his lifetime devotion to the cause of arbitration. Our Supreme Court encourages arbitration because it is a speedy method of settling disputes and of unclogging court dockets.

He was my former law partner in Panganiban Benitez Parlade Africa and Barinaga (Pablaw) from 1963. Our law firm was dissolved in 1995 when I joined the Supreme Court. Two law offices emerged later, one headed by Parlade and the other by Dean Agustin O. Benitez, now deceased. Both outstanding law scholars at Far Eastern University, Benitez was No. 1 and Parlade No. 4 in the 1959 bar examinations. All of us started as associates in the law office of Dr. Jovito R. Salonga.

The International Court of Arbitration made local news a few years back when the Philippine International Airport Terminals Corp. (Piatco) brought arbitration proceedings before it against the Philippine government to press its claims over Terminal III of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. The case is pending up to now.

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