MANILA — Amending the 1987 Constitution at this time may be a "problematic pursuit" given its fiscal and logistical demands, as the country faces more urgent local and national concerns, according to professors from the University of the Philippines Diliman Department of Political Science.
They said the claim that there has been a public clamor for constitutional change is "unsubstantiated."
"Since 2016, not more than 2 to 4 percent of the respondents consider changing the Constitution as urgent," UP Diliman Political Science Chairman Aries Arugay told the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Thursday, during the public consultations on proposals to change the charter.
"Moreover, the claim that the clear majority vote received by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is tantamount to a green light from the citizen to proceed with moves to change the Constitution is a misplaced presumption rather than a compelling fact," he added.
In a position paper signed by 20 faculty members of the UP Diliman Department of Political Science, they reminded lawmakers that amending the 1987 Constitution is not a "silver bullet" or "holy elixir" to cure the country’s problems.
The department said amending the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution is "insufficient" to attract more investors, and that reforms can be accomplished through a mix of legislation and policy interventions.
On the proposed "designated survivor" law, the UP professors believe it undermines the separation of powers, and that the President’s successor should also come from the executive branch until a new election.
They further opined that since the Constitution is silent on the tandem voting for President and Vice-President, a constitutional amendment is not required to reform the election rules to allow it.
“There is also a more urgent need to strengthen political parties to make tandem voting meaningful. As it stands, the bill’s justification for joint election of the top executives is more inclined toward the continuity of programs rather than for accountability,” their position paper stated.
Expanding re-election or lengthening political terms in the Philippines, meanwhile, is seen by the department as a means to prolong elite capture of political office, since political parties in the country are "weak."
The UP professors see Constitutional Convention to be the more appropriate mode of revising the constitution should there be a strong public demand for it, as long as it will be more representative than the current composition of the two Houses of Congress. It should include experts, sectoral representatives, civil society, and those not belonging to political dynasties, they said.
"Congress fashioning itself into a Constituent Assembly is indeed less costly. However, studies by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) raise the following dangerous drawbacks to such a body: The assembly may seek to advance its institutional interests at the disadvantage of other institutional actors. The political parties that dominate the assembly may lack internal democratic structures. The parties may tend to favor electoral systems that distort the distribution of representation and power. Excluded parties may resort to violence or not own the process," Arugay told the panel.
"The alternative to a Constituent Assembly is a Constitutional Convention. According to the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER), members of a Constitutional Convention are more focused on their job of revising the charter having been elected for that specific purpose. Likewise, the process through a Constitutional Convention can be more democratic, transparent, and deliberative (IPER 2004). However, a Constitutional Convention may not necessarily be more inclusive than a Constituent Assembly," he noted.
Should proposals to amend the constitution push through, the professors urged lawmakers to fully lay down the plans before the public so that they may be encouraged to participate from the beginning.
"It is essential that the current executive leadership define where it stands on constitutional revision and the process it envisions as well as identify the responsible authorities who will oversee it. Meanwhile, should it decide to constitute itself as a Constituent Assembly, Congress has to ensure that it will complete the process without taking time and resources away from other legislative priorities," Arugay said.
Amending the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution is neither a necessary, nor a sufficient condition to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDI), according to UP School of Economics Professor Emeritus Solita Monsod.
She cited a recent study showing that the overall FDI Restrictiveness Index is statistically insignificant for investors when macroeconomic stability, governance, ease of doing business, and quality of infrastructure are accounted for.
Monsod also noted that not all FDIs are beneficial and spur development. But those that do, which include those in manufacturing, financial and insurance activities, and wholesale/retail trade are not restricted by the Philippine constitution, yet the Philippines is getting low FDIs in these areas, according to Monsod.
"The overall FDI restrictiveness index is statistically significant. It means it doesn’t make a difference. I hate to say this, but you’re using FDI restrictiveness... I think Congress is using that as an opening door to get all its political… The evidence shows that you don’t have to remove it, because it doesn’t matter. Well, I’m sorry. This is what the study shows. All the studies show,” she told the panel.
“In other words, the claim that the economic provisions of the Constitution have closed the door to FDI are not borne out by the facts. Foreign investors are in happy control or in beneficial ownership, either by liberal interpretation, redefinition through legislation, or the use of creative financial and other instruments. Amending the constitution is not likely to open any new door to FDI, because for all intents and purposes, they are already open,” Monsod added.
She noted that the costs of undertaking the amendments may be “burdensome”, citing the financial expenses of convening a constituent assembly or constitutional convention, the risk that the constituent assembly may widen the scope of their deliberations and the risk of increased rent-seeking activities in the enactment of laws.
But for another UP School of Economics Professor Emeritus Gerardo Sicat, the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution should be amended to allow more foreign capital into the economy. He warned, though, not to mix it with political agenda like term extensions for politicians.
"If we bring in the political agenda or the political amendments sooner, mix this with that, argue that we need both, I think we are putting a poison pill to the agenda of amending the constitutional provisions. The poison pill will be there if you mix it with politics. We must go and proceed with the important amendment of the constitutional provisions that restrict foreign capital to enter the economy," Sicat said.
Former Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and Foundation for Economic Freedom President Calixto Chikiamco also support proposals to liberalize the economic provisions of the charter.
"We believe that the Constitution must be amended, but limited to removing its restrictive economic provisions… These provisions are outdated. These were incorporated in the 1935, ‘73 and ‘87 Constitution. The Philippines was then pursuing, up to at least 1973, the Filipino first policy to counter American economic interests. However, with globalization, increase in foreign trade, agreements and large corporations investing overseas, the current restrictive economic provisions are no longer aligned with these trends. These include foreign ownership of land, exploitation of natural resources, or equity in mass media and advertising, education and foreign practice of a profession," Teves explained.
"There is a need to amend the constitution, specifically by removing the protectionist and statist provisions. These amendments will foster free markets, healthy competition and economic freedom that will give opportunities for development and prosperity of citizens, instead of merely serving the interest of a few," Chikiamco added.