No priority for Cha-cha

RIGHT AFTER President Aquino disavowed any intention to seek reelection after his term ends in 2016, Charter change (Cha-cha) immediately grabbed the headlines. Cha-cha proponents argue that the problems of our country are rooted in the defects of our 1987 Constitution. They say that unless these defects are addressed, reforms in our country are not possible. With due respect, I disagree.

No perfect constitution. True, our present Constitution is imperfect. It is verbose; some provisions are vague; some are awkwardly phrased; some indeed need amendments. But these imperfections are not the basic cause of malgovernance.

I agree with Aquino that Cha-cha should not be the priority now. His anti-corruption and anti-poverty programs are. Cha-cha chatter will just distract our people’s attention and deflect our nation’s focus. Our basic law has been amended several times and replaced twice, in 1973 and 1987, yet our woes remain.

No constitution in the world is perfect. The US Constitution—the oldest in the planet, born on September 17, 1787 and ratified on June 21, 1788—has persevered over time, wars and economic depressions. It had been amended 27 times since then. Yet, it is not perfect.

Defects of US and UK constitutions. One of the glaring defects of the US Charter is the election of the US president by the Electoral College. Under this antiquated system, new presidents could be chosen without obtaining the majority’s vote.

A recent example is George W. Bush who was elected by the Electoral College in 2000 even though his opponent, Al Gore, obtained the majority of the popular vote. Yet America has not abolished the Electoral College. Neither has it amended its Constitution to create a presidential electoral tribunal to hear presidential electoral protests.

The US Constitution does not provide for an independent Commission on Elections, yet elections in America are generally peaceful and orderly. Neither does it provide for an independent Ombudsman or Commission on Audit, yet America does not stink with graft and is able to prosecute and convict corrupt officials. The US Charter has not granted the American judiciary the extraordinary duty to void gravely abusive acts, yet the US Supreme Court has satisfactorily fulfilled its judicial duties over the last 220 years.

The mother of democracies in the world, the United Kingdom, created its Supreme Court only one and half years ago on October 1, 2009. For six centuries before that, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords, which is basically a part of its law-making body, has discharged the functions of the highest court of the land. Yet the Brits have not complained of institutional injustice brought about by a legislative body performing judicial duties.

And even now, the new UK Supreme Court has no power to overturn primary legislation passed by the British Parliament. Yet, no one in that blessed country has faulted its uncodified Constitution for Britain’s malaise, including its recent economic doldrums.

The right solution. If changing the Charter is the wrong solution to excessive corruption and grinding poverty, what is the right one? It is changing the officials who subvert our institutions. More accurately, what we need is not just a change of leaders, but a change in our leaders, in the men and women who run our institutions and systems. A change from the inside out, a change of hearts, a change of values.

What we need are courageous, competent, ethical and patriotic leaders who will make our institutions and systems work, who will fulfill our grand visions and programs, who will put our nation’s interest above their own.

We need more patriotism, less formalism; more delicadeza, less legalism; more substance, less rhetoric; more action, less talk; more dedication to duty, less posturing; more economics, less politics; more truth, less duplicity; more ethics, less image-building; more integrity, less bigotry.

Our Lord warned that even the devil quotes the Bible to camouflage sin. Similarly, the arrant cite our Constitution to abuse, misuse and turn into monsters our best institutions and systems. Once we reform ourselves, once we internalize values and principles, we can talk about amending the Charter and changing our institutions. Charter change is meaningless if the same selfish, arrogant and arrant officials occupy our institutions and systems.

No Aquino, no Cha-cha. Theoretically, presidents have no direct participation in Charter change. Presidential approval is needed to pass ordinary legislation, but chief executives have no legal power to initiate or approve changes in our Charter.

Nonetheless, in reality, no Charter change has passed without the initiative and endorsement of the incumbent presidents. Though not all presidents succeeded in revising our basic law, no revisions had been made without their leadership and support.

Thus, the amendments to the 1935 Charter were crafted at the prodding of Presidents Manuel Quezon and Manuel Roxas. Similarly, the 1973 Constitution was created, and the amendments thereto approved, at the direction of President Ferdinand Marcos, while the 1987 Charter was cobbled at the call of President Corazon Aquino, who convened the Constitutional Commission of 1986.

I dare say then, Cha-cha will not succeed without the active support of Aquino. Let us thus end all the useless Cha-cha chatter. Let us just devote our full attention and time to the priority of the nation: the war against corruption and poverty.

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