One nation, one Constitution

By Tony Lopez

Possibly the best Constitution Day ever was celebrated on Feb. 8, 2024, jointly by the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC), at Makati Shangri-la Hotel).

 Some 450 guests came, including House leaders, cabinet members, legal luminaries, and top executives of the country’s largest corporations.

The celebration “comes with such a propitious timing,” said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. the guest of honor and speaker, noting, “Certainly, it is known to everyone here that constitutional issues have recently been brought to the fore, which bear a tremendous impact on our national consciousness.”  With him was First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos.

Separatist elements

Attempts are being made to amend, if not revise, the 1987 Constitution, now in its 37th year.  Certain elements, led by former President Rodrigo Duterte, want Mindanao to separate from the republic and declare its independence.

Philconsa is the association of jurists, legal luminaries, and government and private sector executives sworn to defend, protect, and preserve the Constitution, the fundamental law of the land.  The MOPC is Asia’s first and oldest press club.  It was established in 1945 by the press corps that came with General Douglas MacArthur who declared Manila “the citadel of democracy in the East”, following the fiercest urban battles staged by American forces in the Pacific.

Under siege

Today, Philippine constitutional democracy is again under siege.

Marcos Jr.’s Constitution Day message was loud and clear.  Nobody, no one can divide the Philippines. “I will not stand idly by,” he declared, stressing “I bear the paramount mandates of maintaining peace and order in our land, and in preserving our national territory and security.”

The President asked Filipinos to join him in the fight for unity, reminding them that they pledged (in their Panatang Makabayan) their love of the country and to perform their duties as citizens.

“These heavy responsibilities are not mine alone,” Marcos said. “The other Great Branches derive their authority and mandate from the Constitution, of which the Judiciary stands as the final bulwark. Our Armed Forces and Police are equally under oath to defend our Republic and our constitutional order. As citizens, we all have sworn to defend our country and its most cherished ideals.”

“Let us not betray the sacred oath that we have made. We must safeguard our Constitution’s primacy, and adhere to its provisions, procedures, and precepts,” the President said.  “As citizens, we have inherited and assumed these for the sake of the continuity of our nation’s legacy. We must then faithfully and vigilantly perform these integral civic duties of ours, lest we lay to waste the great vision and sacrifices of our heroes and our forefathers.”

The 17th President dismissed “the new call for a separate Mindanao” as “doomed to fail, for it is anchored on a false premise, not to mention a sheer constitutional travesty.”

“The current leadership of BARMM itself has repudiated this preposterous proposal. And so did the other political leaders of Mindanao,” Marcos related, “There is already, genuine and effective local autonomy throughout our country, especially in the BARMM, without compromising our national integrity in the slightest degree.”

United, undivided country

The President declared: “Our Constitution calls for a united, undivided country. It calls for eternal cohesion. For this reason, unlike other Constitutions, there is nothing in ours that allows the breaking up of this union, such as an ‘exit provision’. On the contrary, our Constitution does not recognize a right to rebellion, while our criminal laws punish it.”

“Government has sternly enforced these laws to the letter and spirit, and this Administration will be no exception.”

On this part of the Constitution, there is simply no “dynamism” or “flexibility.” This is my guarantee, not only throughout this term but up to my dying breath.” [Applause]

Restrictive provisions

As to amending these restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution, Marcos lamented, “There are laws that prohibit certain kinds of foreign investments, and thus limit our economic potential and our global competitiveness.”

Since the 8th Congress, no less than 300 measures (have been) filed in the House of Representatives calling for the amendment of these economic provisions. [Applause]

Marcos made it clear: “This Administration’s position in introducing reforms to our Constitution extends to economic matters alone, or those strategically aimed at boosting our country’s economy. Nothing more.” [Applause]

Meanwhile, the President encouraged “this healthy and democratic debate to rage on, engaging and informing the minds of our citizenry, [applause] especially since the socio-economic development of our country is directly involved. I will neither hinder this dialogue, nor encroach on the prerogatives of Congress and the sovereign will of the Filipino people.”

Bicameral setup

Marcos seems happy with the present Senate and House of Representatives setup: “Our bicameral Congress and our built-in system of checks-and-balances are wonders to behold. We must allow our democratic institutions and mechanisms, made possible by our constitutional order, to take their natural course.”

In any event, “this Administration is going to push hard to attract more foreign investments to significantly help us achieve our ambition of upper-middle-class status by 2025.” [Applause]

“Despite nearly 16% decrement in our net foreign direct investment inflows, our economy continues to grow and is expected to grow further by between 6.5 to 7.5% in this year, 2024.” [Applause]

Puno paper

Meanwhile, at the Senate sub-committee on constitutional amendments hearing on Feb 11, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno advanced a solution to solve the issue of whether Congress should amend the Constitution jointly as one body (the 24 senators and 310 congressmen meeting as one), or as a Senate of 24 members and a House of Representatives of 310 congressmen meeting separately and voting separately.

Puno said Congress should pass a joint resolution or a law calling for a non-obligatory referendum but with a moral force and let the people decide on the voting separately or jointly issue.