By Hilario Davide Jr.
Former Chief Justice
(Speech delivered on November 21, 2017 at the Joint Membership Forum of the Makati Business Club (MBC), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), Management Association of the Philippines (MAP), and the Employees Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) held at the Manila Polo Club, Makati City.)
I have been asked to talk on the much publicized and propagandized topic: a shift from the unitary to a federal system of government in our country; and, for that purpose, to amend the Constitution via the shortest mode – a Constituent Assembly. This shortest mode is expected to submit for ratification the proposed Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines in May of 2018 so that the first elections under the federal system can be held on the second Monday of May, 2019, the date of our next regular national synchronized elections.
Why the unusual haste in this move to the federal system? Early in his term the President, who is openly for the federal system, wanted a Constitutional Convention. But he later agreed with Speaker Alvarez of the House to have, instead, a Constitutional Assembly to save on expenses and to expedite the process. The President even issued in December of last year an Executive Order creating a sort of Preparatory Commission which shall be tasked to draft the proposed new Constitution for the Federal Republic of the Philippines to be thereafter submitted to the Constituent Assembly.
It appears, however, that the Lower House cannot wait for that. Through its Committee on Constitutional Amendments, it is now rushing the drafting of the proposed Constitution for the Federal Republic of the Philippines by a Constituent Assembly with three proposals at hand serving as its working drafts. The first proposal, in 63 pages, is Senate Resolution No. 10 filed by then Senator Nene Pimentel during the Fourteenth Congress; the second is Resolution No. 08, in 83 pages, introduced lately in the House by Representatives Aurelio Gonzales and Eugene Michael de Vera; and the third is the proposal, in 67 pages, submitted by the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute. Each of these proposals can produce the longest Constitution the Philippines will ever have.
The principal reason adduced in these proposals and by other known proponents for the shift to federalism is that our present unitary system is highly centralized and has created an “Imperial Manila” – not imperial Makati – which nurtures and perpetuates a tremendous imbalance in its favor and against the present political subdivisions or local government units – the autonomous regions, provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays – in the exercise of governmental powers and in the distribution and allocation of government resources, funds, and projects as well as in development, growth, progress, prosperity, and stability. To remove that imbalance there must be put up between the highly centralized authority and these local government units a strong autonomous sovereign governmental authority or seat of power which shall share with the authority and power of the central government to the end that the local government units will truly enjoy the blessings of genuine autonomy.
I would forthwith assert that a shift to federalism or amendments to our present Constitution to accomplish the goals and objectives of the proponents of federalism is totally unnecessary. The reasons adduced to support it are deceptively misleading and unfounded. All such goals and objectives can adequately and sufficiently be accomplished, and the reasons disproven, by merely, but effectively and efficiently, implementing the relevant provisions of our present 1987 Constitution for strong local autonomy and decentralization.
One whole Article of this Constitution – Article X – is devoted to Local Government. It provides for the infrastructure guaranteeing this local autonomy and decentralization. This article orders Congress to enact a Local Government Code which shall, among other things, provide for more responsive and accountable local government structures instituted through a system of decentralization, allocate among the different local government units their power, responsibilities, and resources (Sec. 3). The first Congress convened under our present Constitution enacted in 1991 the Local Government Code.
This Article X likewise provides that local governments shall be entitled to an equitable share in the proceeds of the utilization and development of the natural wealth within their respective areas, in the manner provided by law, including the sharing in the same with the inhabitants therein (Sec. 7). It provides for the creation of metropolitan subdivisions (Sec. 11), and grants local government units power to group themselves, consolidate, or contribute their efforts, services, and resources for purposes commonly beneficial to them in accordance with law (Sec. 13).
The same Article X directs the President to provide for regional development councils for purposes of administrative decentralization to strengthen the autonomy of the units therein and to accelerate the economic and social growth and development of the units in the region (Sec. 14).
In brief, effective decentralization or power sharing between the central government and the political subdivisions are already assured and mandated – not denied or impeded – by the Constitution. On the contrary, they are hampered or impeded by the failure to implement the Constitution.
If more are still needed, Congress needs only to amend the 1991 Local Government Code.
Our 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, which was drafted by the 1986 Constitutional Commission is the best Constitution of the world. It is the only one which is PRO-God, PRO-Filipino, PRO-people, as well as PRO in all of these: life, marriage, family, poor, social justice and human rights, women, youth, environment, among many others. It is the only Constitution that institutionalizes the doctrine that a public office is a public trust, meaning that all public officers and employees are servants of the people (Section 1, Article XI), thereby enshrining the “servant leadership” principle that Jesus Christ Himself proclaimed. It contains sufficient provisions against abuse of powers and guarantees people’s active participation in governance, including the use of people power. I know this Constitution very well because I was, together with our good friend, Ricardo Romulo, among the commissioners of the 1986 Constitutional Commission who drafted it. When we voted on its final draft on 12 October 1986, I ended the explanation of my affirmative vote with these words: “This is the Constitution I am willing to die for.”
Thanks to the Supreme Court, two previous attempts to amend this 30-year-old Constitution failed. The first was to lift the term limits of elected officials, especially that of the President to allow the then incumbent President to run for re-election; the second was to adapt the parliamentary system so that the then incumbent President who cannot run for re-election can run for Congress and be elected Prime Minister.
Sad to say, however, a recent survey disclosed that only about 27% of our people know about the Constitution. Upon the other hand, a great majority of its provisions, especially on social justice, have not been implemented. A number of provisions require enabling statutes or laws to give life to them. The commands for Congress or the government to do so are prescribed about 150 times in the Constitution through such phrases as “The State shall,” “Congress shall,” or “as provided by law.” Similarly, the public trust character of public office remains wantonly disregarded by our public servants.
Shall we now entice or lure our people to amend or revise a Constitution which only 27% of them know? Or, worse yet, a Constitution that is not fully implemented and given life primarily because Congress has been sleeping on its solemn duty to pass laws to implement its mandates?
Needless to stress, all public servants who propose to amend the Constitution, especially that of adapting the federal system, must first meticulously examine and understand the Constitution and honestly ask themselves: Have we done enough to be true and faithful public servants elected or appointed under the Constitution? They must remind themselves that upon assumption of office, each took a solemn oath to, among others, “uphold and defend the Constitution” (Sec. 1, Chapter 10, Book I, Administrative Code of the Philippines). By express mandate of the Constitution (Sec. 5, Article VII), the president, vice president, and acting president shall take a solemn oath to, among others, “preserve and defend the Constitution.”
(To be continued)