Millennium Post

Philippines needs constitutional reform

As President Rodrigo Duterte has vowed to make the Philippines, a federal democratic republic, its Constitution needs to be overhauled. As an amendment or revision of the Constitution encompasses a broader political reform effort, it needs to be designed with positive intentions – debilitating to the political system it purports to govern. As a part of his effort to fulfill the promise, Duterte had also issued an executive order to organise the Consultative Committee on constitutional reform with the mandate to study, conduct consultations, and review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution, including but not limited to the provisions on the structure and powers of the government, local governance, and economic policies. However, this advisory committee is still just a plan on paper as the president has yet to formally announce its members and the constitutional reform project is yet to be kicked off. The lack of any prominent personality in leading the discussion, in this connection, had virtually put the whole country in an unwanted uncertainty. Not only that, the lack of definitive directive from the president had also virtually hampered a clear and coherent approach towards complete constitutional reform. The dearth of consensus amongst political elites on how to go about the process of revision had made the opacity even made more precarious. However, there are two possible ways to proceed with constitutional reform – either by the Congress acting as a constituent assembly or by a duly elected constitutional convention. In both these cases, any revision to the national charter would be valid, only after the approval by the electorate in a plebiscite. For Duterte and his party, the constituent assembly mode was the practical choice. On the other hand, the critics, including academics and civil society personalities, think otherwise. With memories of the 14-years' dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos still haunting their minds, they believe that such a body would be less beholden to Duterte, as the current Congress seems to be. Much on expected lines, Duterte and his allies in the legislature oppose this option, highlighting the need to complete the revision process by 2019. It may be noted that as the new Constitution must be more reflective of the times and responsive to the citizens' needs, any attempt at a constitutional revision without proper public discourse may be rejected by the Filipinos.

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