July 17, 2019
THE military, we have been warned, is getting restive, and we had better amend the Constitution if we want to avoid the mayhem of a coup. This was, reportedly, Malacañang’s ominous announcement some weeks back.
When I accepted my appointment as a member of the Consultative Committee to study the 1987 Constitution (ConCom 2018), I did so because I believed very strongly — and do so till now — that many of the ills from which we perennially suffer can be cured by adopting a federal system of government. We drafted what we thought was a good constitution for a federal republic, but the Lower House battered it beyond recognition and the Senate had vowed, even before reading the draft, that it would be consigned straight away to the garbage bin — the very antithesis of intelligent statesmanship! Now, even the Palace seems to have grown cold on the federalism proposal, and yet sternly warns that we need to amend the Constitution to placate a snorting military establishment. What for, may I ask?
I take umbrage at the mere prospect of rewriting the fundamental law of the land principally to placate growling officers and grumbling men in uniform. The auguries for our democracy are dismal when they who wield the arms also dictate the law. If anything at all, it is the unleashing of power and the wielding of arms that should be kept in check by the law, and when we are warned that the military might just throw up a fit if a constitution is not written that is to its liking, then they who are to be checked and confined by the law themselves determine the terms of their confinement! Nothing could be more absurd, and dangerously so. The constitutional order is so crucial to the common good, so pivotal to social cohesion that it should never be set to paper because trumpets sound the call to arms.
If a transition to a federal system is not the end in view — which to me is the only pressing reason for revising the charter of the land at the present time — then the 1987 Constitution has served as well and can still serve as well, with the whole corpus of jurisprudence that has evolved around it. Crafted by men and women who had seen for themselves what the military could do when things hung in a balance, and the survival of democracy depended on very thin sliver, and who had lived through an extended exercise by the Executive of emergency powers stretched taut — abusively, many think — it remains a careful and wise calibration of the awesome powers of State and government, and the rights of persons.
Should the people overwhelmingly vote in a referendum or a plebiscite for a military that trumps civilian authority, the result would not be a democracy. A convincing show of hands for an autocracy or a uniformed aristocracy would still be that — not a democracy. It is salutary to be reminded of this because popularity ratings apparently make for convincing “proof” in our interesting times. And then, of course, we return to Alasdaire MacIntyre’s justified plaint about our times: Because we reject any reference to “natural law” or to the dictates of reason, we are not only intellectually but, worse, ethically adrift — our sense of right and wrong, of what befits human dignity and what tramples on it, reduced to the counting of noses!
It was clearly on President Duterte’s agenda to revise the Constitution when he openly advocated a federal form of government. In fact he made it clear to us who he had appointed to draft his proposal to Congress that he wanted the job done quickly — but expertly — so that he could pass it on to Congress, little knowing, I suppose, that provisions we were firm about, such as an operative anti-dynasty provision, a total overhaul of the proportional representation system (that did away with the misshapen party system that now haunts us) and what national legislators perceived to be a dilution of their powers would spell the doom of the proposal.
But the present clamor to amend the Constitution, whose agenda is it? And exactly what provisions are to be amended? More importantly: Why should the military be adamant about rewriting provisions of the Charter? Should not that set off the alarm?
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