Thursday, August 28, 2014

Democratic and Constitutional Exercises in the Philippines

As a dual citizen, I cater to two audiences for my columns and blogs. This explains why at times the topics target either Filipino or American readers. But reviewing the readership data provided by my publishers online, I notice that I get more visits when the subject matter involves the Philippines. This is most likely because majority of my friends, family, followers, fans and correspondingly their own friends, family, followers, and fans which they share articles with are Filipinos. This also explains why my topics have been disproportionately Filipino.
When it is about democracy and the Constitution however, I know that both Filipino and American readers get interested.
The Constitution is the fundamental law that is used to promote, practice, and protect the democratic rights of citizens. It is where we hope that, through it, we could eventually achieve equal opportunity economically, real freedom and liberty politically, and justice and equity socially.
Recently, debates have started regarding proposed reforms – economic, political, and social. The focus of discussions in the Philippines is on some proposed constitutional amendments. Some are economic provisions regarding the liberalization of foreign equity participation. Some are political ones such as adding another six-year term for the President; or changing the system from the current Presidential to a Parliamentary one.
Democracy in Action
The main argument of PNoy’s critics, the naysayers, and/or oppositionists against the possibility of PNoy extending his term of office by amending the Constitution is that it would be undemocratic. Allegedly, it militates against the wishes of his mother President Cory – “the icon of democracy”.
Let us analyze this argument.  First, amending the Constitution in itself is part of the democratic process.  Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution specifically provides the ways to make changes to the fundamental law.
Second, it allows discussions and debates between and among the legislators if made through a Constituent Assembly; among the Delegates if made through the Constitutional Convention; and among the proponents and signatories versus the opponents if made through the People’s initiative. Meanwhile, the Press can freely publish the debates, and the columnists can voice their opinions without fear. The voters represented by the legislators or delegates can also express their views.
Third, if the proposed amendments are approved through any of the above means, it is submitted to a referendum for ratification by a majority of the Filipino people. Again, this process allows the people and the media to discuss and debate the Pros and Cons of the proposals.
Fourth, if ratified, a new election will be held. Those who are against PNoy or his anointed one can campaign against him. Under a Parliamentary system, the opposition party can campaign against PNoy’s ruling party.
Fifth, if they remain the minority party resulting from the elections, PNoy’s critics and naysayers will continue to fulfill their democratic role as the “loyal opposition”.
As my barber would say, “if that is not democratic, what else is?”
The Constitution is what we the people make. It is we who give it life and dynamism. It is our vigilance that gives it real protection. It was a scrap of paper under a dictatorship because it failed to protect our political, civil and human rights.
Through a People Power Revolution, we totally scrapped it and came up with a new one as an answer to the demands at a given time. After 28 years, the technological, political, economic, and social environment also now require changes to face the challenges of tomorrow.
In more mature democracies like the United States, there had been 11,539 proposals to amend its Constitution since it was put into operation on March 4, 1789. Actually, twenty-seven of these were adopted and ratified. In fact, ten of the amendments were the Bill of Rights, which were adopted and ratified simultaneously only two years since the Constitution became operational.

The Constitution itself provides the democratic mechanism. In all its facets, the people’s participation is recognized, protected, and encouraged. Vigilance is required and definitely fear from change is discouraged.

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