(The following is a joint statement of all Ateneo presidents on RBH 15.)
The move to amend the Philippines’ 1987 Constitution has been one of the most contentious issues of 2018. According to the latest Pulse Asia survey held in June 2018, only 18% of our population support charter change, while a majority (67% of the population) do not. An additional 14% are undecided. The same poll also indicated that 62% of Filipinos are not presently in favor of a shift to a federal form of government.
Regardless of where one sits on this issue, the ongoing discussion and debate is a healthy one for our democracy. Evidence-based discussions and debates are critical in crafting reform options for the country’s governance and development. An inclusive and transparent process is indispensable in establishing a credible result, one that hopefully could unite the country in a common understanding of the way forward.
Sadly, this process of deliberation has been undermined and hijacked by the recent move by Congress to push for charter change. Last 12 December 2018, amidst the backdrop of allegations of pork barrel spending in the proposed 2019 budget, the Lower House of Congress passed Resolution of Both Houses number 15 (RBH 15) on third and final reading, pushing what many see as the charter change that is being railroaded.
RBH 15 dramatically departs from the reform process initiated by President Duterte, which called on the Constitutional Committee to Review the Constitution (ConCom) to help push debates and discussions on constitutional reforms.
There are at least three troubling features of RBH 15. First, it excludes important political reforms proposed by the ConCom and supported widely by academia, such as the proposed anti-dynasty law, and a clear political party reform agenda. RBH 15 even removes all reference to political dynasties, which were already embedded in the 1987 Constitution.
Secondly, the resolution also removes existing term limits for congressmen, senators, and local government officials. Combined with no constraints on dynastic expansion, this threatens to further concentrate political power into the hands of very few political clans.
Thirdly, the resolution jettisons Article XIII of the 1987 Constitution, dedicated to “Social Justice and Human Rights”, a section explicitly recognized by 1986 Constitutional Commission’s President as the “heart” of the said charter (Muñoz-Palma 1986). By eliminating this entire article, RBH 15 weakens the State’s commitments on the protection of labor, the promotion of equitable land ownership and access to natural resources, the promotion of urban land reform and affordable, decent housing for the urban poor, the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, and the role of peoples’ organizations, among others.
These features of RBH 15 alone, combined with the unreasonable pace and non-inclusive process, are likely to exacerbate further the trust deficit that presently characterizes the federalism discussions.
For these reasons, we call on our legislators to stop fast-tracking the charter change process and to take the proper steps to consult all sectors in order to re-establish credibility and trust in the process. Imposing their will on the people will only elicit stronger resistance to federalism, as many will see this only as a ploy of dynastic politicians to further strengthen their hold on power.
Charter change is a difficult arena for reforms. Clearly, a transition to a federal system cannot be bound by a constricting timetable such as the term of President Duterte. Empirical evidence, substantial independence, and objectivity will be critical in forging a consensus. Anything less than these merely exposes the true intentions of the so-called “reformists.”
Therefore, we urge the administration to undertake instead a wider and more consultative discussion on constitutional reform. Only by undergoing a genuine and participatory national dialogue will Filipinos attain a level of consciousness where they can properly decide whether to change the charter or not.
We in the academe, along with the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and the Coordinating Council of Private Educational Associations (COCOPEA), and working with other stakeholders in our society including the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), are willing to help bring about this national conversation on constitutional reform by working with our colleagues in government, civil society, and the private sector.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam,
Fr Karel S San Juan SJ (President, Ateneo de Zamboanga University)
Fr Joel E Tabora SJ (President, Ateneo de Davao University)
Fr Jose Ramon T Villarin SJ (President, Ateneo de Manila University)
Fr Roberto Exequiel N Rivera SJ (President, Ateneo de Naga University)
Fr Roberto C Yap SJ (President, Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan)