THE CATHOLIC Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) may have indicated its openness, albeit in a left-handed way, to official moves to amend the 1987 Constitution in a pastoral statement last Jan. 29. But Father Rector Tamerlane Lana, O.P. and other University authorities expressed reluctance about the initiatives.

Lana said efforts to change the Constitution may only serve personal political interests.

“It is better not to change it (the Constitution) if you have the same people who run the government,” Lana said. “We should discuss thoroughly the issue.”

Former UST Rector and Commission on Higher Education Chair Fr. Rolando De la Rosa, O.P. said that the move to change the charter is “just a red herring.”

“This is a ploy used by people in power to distract us from solving the current political crisis,” De la Rosa said.

In its statement, the CBCP basically called for caution on changing the Constitution.

“While we agree that certain aspects of our Constitution may need amendments and revisions, we do not support hasty efforts to change this fundamental law of the land without the widespread discussion and participation that such changes require,” the bishops said.

“We continue to believe, as we did in our Statement on Charter Change in 2003, that changing the Constitution involving major shifts in the form of government requires widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate.”

The bishops added that any effort to change the Constitution should be through a popularly elected constitutional convention, not through a constituent assembly. They also opposed the suggestion of the Consultative Commission (ConCom) on constitutional change to defer the elections next year so that elective officials could concentrate on charter change.

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In an interview with the Varsitarian, retired Court of Appeals Justice Oswaldo Agcaoili said there are only three ways to amend the Constitution: through a constituent assembly; constitutional convention; and through people’s initiative.

Agcaoili, who teaches Constitutional Law at the UST Faculty of Civil Law, said the ConCom that the President had created is a purely recommendatory body, whose creation could be a waste of time, effort, and money because Congress could completely disregard the body’s recommendation.

“This body need not have been constituted at all,” Agcaoili said.

Meanwhile, Jose V. Abueva, the chairman of the ConCom, which drafted a blueprint of the new constitution, defended the proposed amendments, saying that they are a remedy to the severe political, social and economic problems of the country.

“Our problems are matindi talaga,” Abueva said in a round-table discussion at the UST Tanghalang Teresita auditorium last Jan. 21. “You cannot have good governance with the existing system. To say that nothing is wrong with our presidential system, you have to be blind to the accumulated problems of the country.”

Abueva explained that there is a need to reform the government because of its weak capacity as an institution to effectively and responsibly make and implement policies and decisions from the local to the national level.

The commission’s proposal for the country to shift from a presidential to a unicameral parliamentary government will ensure the government officials’ accountability in the exercise of legislative and executive powers, he said.

“With power diffused and leadership fragmented, it is difficult to know who is responsible for power or governance. You want to make the president accountable, but her term is fixed,” Abueva said in the forum, “Reflections on the ConCom Report: Reform in the System of Government”.

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Abueva added that the presidential system, which was patterned after the United States, is “unstable” because the incumbent president may want to extend his fixed term of office by amending the constitution. People power and military intervention in politics after a failed impeachment may discourage foreign investors and disrupt the economy, he said.

“It is artificial to stop them (former presidents) from running again and depriving people of good members of the parliament,” Abueva said. “Politics is a profession just like law, medicine, teaching, and accounting. If people want to be politicians for life, then let them be, provided they will be elected or re-elected.”

Meanwhile, Ramon Casiple, director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, criticized the ConCom’s proposals, calling them divisive.

“We need to let the current political crisis pass us first,” Casiple said. “Although it is a good time to review the Constitution, we need to study the Constitution in an atmosphere where there are no political interests at stake. There’s still no substitute for a constitutional convention directly elected by the people for the sole purpose of revising the constitution rather than the Congress who will be affected by the changes.”

However, Abueva replied that looking back in history, there was really never an ideal time for changing the constitution.

“I’m sure the revolutionaries like Calderon, Mabini and Aguinaldo were not looking for an ideal time. They did it because it was the right thing to do at the moment,” Abueva said.

Casiple said that if the ConCom’s draft were approved through a plebiscite, Filipinos would lose their sovereignty for three years since the draft proposes no elections next year. It is assumed that when the constitution has been approved, the incumbent national and local leaders would remain in office, he said.

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However, Casiple believed that the ConCom’s proposal is a good effort since it brought to the people the questions and issues about the proposals that were often debated before but on an unofficial level.

“We have something in hand and we are obliged to face it,” Casiple said. Edsel Van D.T. Dura

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