MANILA — A new debate on proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution kicked off at the Senate on Thursday presided by newbie Sen. Robin Padilla, who vowed to "laymanize" the discussion.
Padilla is the first non-lawyer to be elected chairman of the Senate committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes.
"Bilang tagapangulo ng Komite ay sisikapin natin ang isang malaya, sistematiko, at produktibong talakayan tungkol sa mga usaping ito... Napalaban po tayo sa Tagalog," said Padilla.
"Ginagawa po natin ito para mas maintindihan ng ating mga kababayan dahil sa madalas pong mga ganap laging malalalim na Ingles, mga legal na pananalita ang ginamgamit," he added.
(As leader of the committee, we will strive for a free, systematic, and productive discussion of these issues. We will use Tagalog. We are doing this so that our compatriots could understand because English and legalese are often used.)
The 1987 Constitution was drafted and ratified under the administration of former President Corazon Aquino after dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. was ousted in 1986.
According to Center for Excellence in Local Governance (CELG) executive director Jonathan Malaya, it is about time to amend what he called the "Cory Constitution."
"After 36 years of the 'Cory Constitution' panahon na para amyendahan na ito. Wala na pong debate dito... Thirty-six years later alam na natin kung ano ang kailangang baguhin sa Saligang Batas," Malaya told the Senate panel.
"Alam na natin ang kakulangan nito. The flaws are clear. Ang dami na pong studies na ginawa dito. Hindi po kami naniniwala na ang Constitution na ito ay perfect."
(After 36 years of the 'Cory Constitution,' it's time to amend this. There is no debate here. Thirty-six years later, we already know what needs to be changed in the constitution. We know its shortcomings... There have been a lot of studies on this. We do not believe that this Constitution is perfect.)
Malaya previously served as undersecretary of Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and head of its inter-agency task force on constitutional reform.
According to Malaya, now is the perfect time to debate on Charter change (Cha-cha) in order to avoid allegations that it was meant to prolong the term of incumbent officials.
"Ngayon po ang tamang panahon dahil kasisimula pa lang ng termino ng Kongreso para hindi tayo magawan ng issue na gusto nating pahabain ang termino ng pangulo," he explained.
(Now is the right time because the term of Congress has just started, we could avoid accusations of trying to extend the term of the president.)
Malaya said several provisions of the 1987 Constitution were outdated and preventing the country's economic growth.
"Meron na pong consensus ang economic managers na panahon na para tanggalin 'yung restrictive economic provisions ng ating bansa," he said.
(Economic managers have reached a consensus that it is time to remove the restrictive economic provisions of our country.)
The 1987 Constitution mandates that some areas of investments are reserved for Filipino citizens or companies that are 60-percent owned by Filipinos.
But lawyer Christian Monsod, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, argued that this "60-40" rule could be "refined" by other laws.
"Everybody knows that there are already several laws that clarify or refine this provision of Constitution. The latest one is the amendment of Public Service Act on the definition of public utility. And before that there is EPIRA (Electric Power Industry Reform Act). So where is the hindrance or restrictiveness?" he said.
Monsod likewise said that corruption, and not the "restrictiveness" of the Charter, was to blame for the lack of foreign investments in the country.
Meanwhile, Malaya also pointed out that Constitutional amendments may improve the country's political system.
But Monsod said Cha-cha advocates may be "barking at the wrong tree."
"There are people who say, 'It's already 35 years old we must look it.' But the US Constitution has been there for 240 years, way before any of these things--27 amendments, no massive revisions or sweeping change. And they find ways and means to interpret it... Ang checks and balance andyan po. Is it the problem of structure or is it because the people there defer to the powers?" he continued.
(The checks and balances are there.)
"You don't need to change the Constitution to correct its shortcomings," he added.
Proposals to change the country's Charter have been a staple in every administration.
The previous administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte created consultative committee, led by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, which drafted a federal Constitution that failed to materialize beyond Congressional debates.