MANILA - A plebiscite should not be held if Filipinos are not yet capable of making an "intelligent choice" on the issue of charter change, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Wednesday.
"Regardless whether 'yan ay con-con (constitutional convention) or con-ass (constituent assembly), ang mahalaga ang tao pa rin ang boboto," Panelo said during the Senate's first public hearing on charter change.
"Ang problema, naiintindihan ba ng tao? Kailangan 'yung tao pa rin maintindihan kung ano 'yung pinapaboto sa kanila. They should have an intelligent choice," Panelo said during the Senate's first public hearing on charter change.
(Regardless whether it's a constitutional commission or constituent assembly, what's important is that it's the people who will decide. The problem is, do they understand it? The people should be allowed to understand the choice they are making. They should have an intelligent choice.)
Panelo said reforms being espoused by the government would not be felt if the public is deprived of information about the current Constitution and its proposed alternative.
"Pagdating sa botohan, bakit madaling maimpluwensiyahan? Bakit madaling mabili? Bakit madaling matakot? Overwhelming majority ng ating mga kababayan ay hindi edukado. Walang edukasyon," Panelo said.
(When it comes to elections, why are voters easy to influence? Why is it easy to buy votes? Why is it easy to intimidate voters? It's because an overwhelming majority of Filipinos are uneducated.)
"Kanina lang may nag-text na, 'hindi ko kayo maintindihan puro kayo Ingles,'" Panelo added, referring to a text message read aloud by Sen. Sonny Angara during the hearing.
(Just a while ago, someone already texted that he can't understand our discussions because it's in English.)
"Baka kailangan muna ay mag-prepare tayo ng edukasyon. Bigyan muna natin ng edukasyon ang karamihan sa ating mga kababayan bago tayo pumunta riyan. Otherwise, 'yun na naman mangyayari sa atin," Panelo said.
(Maybe we first need to prepare for the public's education. Let's first give them the information they need before we discuss charter change. Otherwise, we'll just end up the same.)
Legal luminaries present at the hearing echoed Pimentel's call for thorough information dissemination and charter change education before bringing any charter change proposal to a national vote.
"Why not fully, comprehensively prepare people, policies, institutions before changing the Constitution? Why not deal with the preparation so that when it is time, we are fully prepared, not rushed," Edmundo Garcia, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, told senators.
Adequate preparation will raise the issue of trust in the process and "if we trust the process, we will trust the outcome," he said.
Legal experts present at the hearing also slammed the House of Representatives for supposedly railroading the shift to federalism.
On Tuesday, the House adopted a resolution to convene as a constituent assembly, a body authorized to draft a new charter.
Opposition lawmakers tried to oppose the adoption of the ruling but House Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rimpy Bondoc countered that there have been enough speakers under House rules so debates could be terminated any time.