Why I am against charter change

A Constitution must reflect the basic principles that keep our nation together. Every time a new official is sworn in to serve government, he or she is asked to uphold the Constitution. It is the spoke in our wheel; the compass by which we all set our eyes on whenever the nation feels adrift. Opening up the Constitution now to amendments and revisions would be like asking a child to stand in the middle of a lion’s den. Our present Charter will be pawed at, scratched, torn, and devoured by lions of all sizes. At this time of political uncertainty and divisiveness, it may not be wise to subject our Constitution to such a masticating experience.

The administration argues that Charter change is the solution to perennial political gridlock. This magic wand will unravel the knots that prevent us from taking off. This argument is premised on the idea that under a parliamentary form of government there will be less dissent, since the system will be unicameral and the Prime Minister as well as members of Cabinet will be coming from the same body.

I do not see the cost of electricity tumbling down because we shifted to a parliamentary form of government. We will continue to pay for debts incurred since the time of a mothballed Bataan Nuclear Plant to the present Napocor. I do not see how millions of jobs can suddenly exist because we have a Prime Minister. Investors shy away because of political instability, red tape, corruption, and rules that change all the time.

Under such a system, they say, a poor person from the boondocks who, by a stroke of fate, is able to win a parliamentary election can someday become Prime Minister. Yet, that very poor person, if the Consultative Commission’s report is to be followed, must have a college degree. To equate brilliance or even competence with the attainment of a college degree is similar to associating dumbness with blonde hair. Poverty is the major barrier to a college or university degree, not stupidity. The last time I checked, more than 80% of our population is poor.

What is apparent is that the poor will no longer be courted by whoever wants to be the country’s next head of state. Under a parliamentary system, the members of parliament elected by the people will in turn elect the Prime Minister. This means a presidential candidate will no longer come bouncing up and down on the back of a pick-up truck through the dusty, rough roads of Camarines Norte, or Samar, or Sulu, or the Cordilleras to campaign for a handful of votes. A Prime Minister will owe his position to the majority of his co-parliamentarians, not to the fishermen of Davao or fishball vendors of Manila. A parliament composed of political warlords and wealthy scions of established dynasties wouldn’t give a hoot about the gripes of national organizations such as the FFW, TUCP, CBCP, ECOP, and PCCI since they can win a re-election anytime simply by making sure the voters in their districts are under their control.

In a unicameral system, the likelihood of public hearings on delicate issues that could offend the powers-that-be ranges from dim to nil. The Filipino is usually averse to any kind of confrontation. We are quite forgiving of each other’s follies especially if it means a favor or two in return. In a system driven by political patronage, conformity is often rewarded while those who roil the waters are quickly dispatched to distant shores. A presidential system has stronger checks and balances and has enough windows for the public to peer in to see whether governance has gone astray. The Lower House can be as parochial as needed since the Senate will be there to adopt the larger view.

I am against Charter change at this particular time because when future generations study the reasons behind this change they would have to revisit these befuddling times when there are so many “truths” except the kind that do matter.

They would have to learn about Garci, and grapple with questions such as how an incumbent president and the Senate were bugged without anyone being jailed for it. A new Constitution must be drawn from a position of strength and wellspring of optimism. We must earn the right to a clean slate and new beginning that Charter change would eventually bring. A mother would want to bring a child into the world for all the right reasons and at the right time. So must it be for a new Constitution. It must be the embodiment of the principles that all Filipinos, both here and overseas, believe in. Yet, if there was to be a plebiscite, more than 8 million overseas Filipinos are excluded by law to weigh in on such a vital decision.

I realize that the present Constitution is not without flaws. For example, I agree that elections must be held farther apart. I also agree that some economic provisions can withstand scrutiny and debate. However, unlike most passengers on the Cha-cha express, I do not agree that we must have a new Constitution on or before July of this year. If there was a political ruckus because some sectors questioned the legitimacy of the president’s victory in the 2004 polls, imagine the kind of conflagration that would result from a doubtful, hastily-drawn, unpopular Constitution. We live by laws derived from the Constitution. We must be able to trust that the Charter is reflective of the principles that we, the people, all agree to live by. A weak constitutional foundation makes for an inherently unstable society.

On January 16, 2006, after a two-month leave, I quietly handed in my resignation to my direct superior, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita. It was difficult for me to end 18 years of government service, most of which I spent serving under my late father. However, I felt it was but fair to everyone for me to leave the Office of the President as Undersecretary since I hold a contrary view on an issue that is very close to the President’s heart. Despite this policy difference, I do respect President Gloria Arroyo and sincerely wish her well. (based on a previous column which appeared in Panorama Magazine)

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Very well said, Toots. My compliments. I hope people are listening. — Rene Azurin

  • I agree with you Ms Toots. May the present government listen to your point of view. God bless us all!