1987 Constitution framers, law experts junk Enrile's charter change proposals

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 22 2022 10:27 PM

MANILA - Ninety-eight year-old Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile has witnessed and outlived majority of 15 Philippine presidents, and lived under three Constitutions aside from the so-called "war Constitution".

This encouraged Sen. Robin Padilla, chair of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, to get Enrile’s inputs on proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution. The veteran politician attended the panel's hearing on Wednesday.

Among the country's charters, Enrile said he is most impressed with the 1935 Constitution or the Commonwealth Charter, and then the 1973 Constitution, which was crafted during the time of the late President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.

“Para sa akin, ang pinakamagandang Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas ay yung 1935 Constitution. Maiksi, brief, simple, easy to understand. Pangalawa, yung 1973 Constitution. May katangian po yun dahil sa tinatawag na continuity of policies,” Enrile told the panel.

For him, an ideal political situation is giving four reelections to a sitting president.

The Senate membership may also be increased to 48, of whom 16 are elected every two years.

Enrile said the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions should be used as bases when crafting a new Charter, and not the 1987 Constitution which, according to him, has so many “flaws.”

Among the "flaws" for him are the deleted “imminent danger” in the “Bill of Rights” which was used as basis by Marcos Sr. when he declared Martial Law on September 21, 1972.

Also, the current charter is unclear whether the Senate and the House of Representatives should vote separately or jointly when deciding on proposed measures, he added.

“Yan ang isa sa mga cancer na inilagay sa 1987 Constitution… Chopsuey ang ginawa nila na Konstitusyon… Take it out. Take the 1987 constitution out,” Enrile said.

Padilla asked, “Buong Konstitusyon po?”

“Yeah, the whole Constitution. Maraming inconsistencies yan,” Enrile replied.

1987 CONSTITUTION FRAMERS FROWN

Enrile’s opinions did not sit well with former Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.

“It is unwise, and very dangerous. If I may add, the statement is ridiculous. Why? The 1987 Constitution is based on our historical experience as a people. It is the fruit of many consultations in the Philippines - citywide, provincial and national consultations… It is based on several constitutions, the best practices,” Sarmiento told ABS-CBN News.

According to him, those who wrote the post-Edsa People Power Revolt charter ensured that it centers on social justice and environmental protection, which other countries are even trying to duplicate.

The 1987 Constitution was crafted during that “period of instability", he said.

Nonetheless, Sarmiento admitted there are provisions in the charter that must be strengthened, including on political dynasty, the party-list system and its “protectionist” economic provisions.

Scrapping the entire 1987 Constitution must not be part of the options, he stressed.

“We’re not in a period of a revolutionary period. There is no rebellion that threatens the republic. We have a period of stability. Possibly to amend yes, but to totally scrap the history of today.. not in a period of calm and peace,” he said.

Former Comelec Chairman and another 1987 Constitution framer Christian Monsod said he was the one who pushed for the removal of the "imminent danger" phrase in the Bill of Rights, as well as why declaring Martial Law should no longer be an exclusive power of a sitting president.

“We should learn yung lessons of the past on what happened when you put absolute power in the hands of one person," Monsod said on ANC.

"That cannot happen in a democracy… Inalis namin yung 'imminent danger thereof' tsaka 'lawless violence' kasi yung interpretation ng 'imminent danger' and 'lawless violence' is an issue by itself… 'Imminent danger thereof' is a very elastic term that can be misused and abused by a president greedy for power,” he said.

Lawyer Michael Yusingco of the Ateneo Policy Center also frowned at Enrile’s proposal for the nation to revert to the 1935 Constitution.

“Pag narinig mo yung salita na 'Let’s go back to the 1973 Constitution', where the president both has the executive and legislative powers, eh talagang matatakot ka di ba? Also, sasabihin nya (Enrile), 'Let’s go back to the 1935 Constitution.' So, anong gagawin natin dun sa constitutionally-guaranteed autonomy of local governments, tatanggalin na natin yun? What’s gonna happen to the BARMM (Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao)? Tatanggalin na rin natin yun?” he said.

Constitutions of each nation evolve, and each version is “a product of its time,” Yusingco said.

While saying that every Filipino may have an opinion on what provisions in the Constitution need to be changed, Yusingco says that for him, it is the term of local officials, suggesting that the current three years should be extended to six years and with probably one reelection.

The six-year term given to a president, vice president and senator, is ideal, he noted.

Amid recurring calls to amend the Constitution, Yusingco said the Senate should refrain from seeking the opinion of those who have already been heard by the public for years.

MESSAGE TO PADILLA

Sarmiento and Yusingco also said that Padilla needs to really “listen” to the people’s sentiments regarding charter change.

As head of the committee deliberating on the proposed charter change, Padilla must get the opinion of those in the BARMM, Cordillera Administrative Region, as well as in other parts of the Visayas and Mindanao, said Yusingco said.

“Yun nga ang pinaka-red flag sa akin eh, na ang pinakikinggan lang niya ay 'yung pare-parehong boses eh. In the five hearings that I have seen and watched, isa lang talaga ang baguhan dun… Give the platform to really the voice of the regions,” he said.

“Set aside muna niya (Padilla) yung advocacy niya for charter change and federalism, at makinig muna siya. Makinig muna siya dun sa mga boses ng rehiyon, ng mga probinsiya. At doon siya magsimula sa kaniyang pagsulat ng committee report,” Yusingco added.

For Sarmiento, Padilla's committee must wrap up its hearings after having conducted five already as of Wednesday.

“I think it has to stop. There has been a series of consultations, appearances of resource persons. I think may punto pinal ang consultation,” he said.

The committee can source additional knowledge from the recommendations that previous administrations have gathered, he added. These include the review conducted, and “draft Constitution” produced by review groups formed during the Ramos, Arroyo and Duterte administrations.

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