Two years ago, members of the Lower House floated around the idea of amending the Charter. Facing opposition from the Senate, the House gave the Senators three days to agree to a constitutional convention, failing which they would pursue charter change without the participation of the Senate, through a constituent assembly.
Two years ago, people outraged by the Lower House’s disregard for the bicameral nature of Congress assembled in mass protest actions. Eventually, Congress shelved its ill-conceived plans of hastily amending the Constitution.
Two years ago, the UP Law Student Government issued a statement calling the maneuvers of the Congressmen then as “an obvious and grave abuse of power and discretion.”
It is unfortunate that we find ourselves having to do the same thing today, to call on our leaders who never seem to understand that so long as the initiative to amend the Constitution is in blatant disregard of the text and spirit of the fundamental law of the land, and so long as the initiative is to be carried out by people who suffer under an obvious conflict of interest, their calls for cha-cha will always remain suspect.
We, the undersigned students of the University of the Philippines College of Law, denounce the recent moves by our lawmakers in the Lower House to amend the Constitution without the participation of the Upper House, and without the participation of the people.
We are not against the idea of amending the Constitution; perhaps, there really are governmental and policy reforms that warrant the reworking of our Charter.
But we are against the idea of railroading the amendments process and disregarding the very nature of bicameralism. The 1987 Constitution may not speak of the manner by which amendments to the constitution are to be voted upon—that is, whether it is to be voted by all the members of Congress jointly or separately. But this omission does not mean that the framers intended for Congress to vote jointly. If anything, the omission was a mere human oversight, because at the time the 1987 Constitution was being drafted, the original proposal referred to a unicameral Congress similar to that in the 1973 Constitution. Since we ended up with a bicameral legislature, it is but reasonable to say that the general rule for the manner of voting is to vote separately. If laws are passed by the lower and upper Houses separately, why should the process of amending our fundamental law be any different?
We are against the idea of amending the Charter before the 2010 elections, by the very people who stand to directly benefit from it. It is to be noted that several proposals among the 30 cha-cha-related resolutions filed in the 14th Congress call for a shift from a republican to a federal government. Such a change in our political structure would naturally entail talks about term limits, term extensions, and qualifications—matters that we cannot leave to a con-ass that suffers from a conflict of interest. Any amendment to our fundamental law will have far-reaching consequences; thus, the need for our lawmakers and the people to deliberate upon them. There is a venue where proposed amendments may be intelligently discussed and debated, without the trappings of vested political interests. Unfortunately, we do not see the con-ass being championed by administration allies as that kind of venue. Two years ago, the public showed its distrust of this administration spearheading any form of charter change. From 2006 and 2008, nothing has happened to significantly increase public trust in it; in fact, after the numerous scandals and human rights violations that have surfaced since 2006, people’s trust in this administration has plunged even further.
We call on the President to ask her allies to stop any and all attempts to change the charter before the 2010 national elections. It is not enough for Malacañang to deny that it had a hand in the maneuverings of its allies in Congress; being their titular head, PGMA is in the position to stop them if she were really so inclined. We remind her of what she said two years ago, that “Philippine democracy will always find the proper time and opportunity for Charter reform at a time when the people deem it ripe and needful, and in the manner they deem proper.”
We call on our elected leaders to be more circumspect in their actions; to consider, instead, urgent issues that need to be addressed before they adjourn this year: the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program; the Reproductive Health Bill; the Access to Information Bill; the rising incidences of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and harassment of lawyers, activists, peasants and journalists; among others.
We call on our fellow law students and students from other colleges to be vigilant about attempts to undermine the rule of law. Study the issues. Talk to your friends and families about cha-cha. Be involved in actions to safeguard the integrity of our Constitution and its processes. The Constitution may not be perfect, but for now it remains to be the law. To quote our predecessors, “Let us not get caught in the tragedy of being a law student who studies the law in a vacuum and remains in the dark in the midst of surrounding political turmoil. Let us grab this chance to learn the law not just inside Malcolm Hall but to learn it in spite of Malcolm Hall.”
More than that, let us be involved precisely because we are students of Malcolm Hall.
- The Executive Board, UP Law Student Government 2008-2009
Michael Jobert I. Navallo
Alessandra Maria Anna Gloria O. Reyes
Bernice C. Mendoza
Janette T. Lim
Aaron Jarveen O. Ho
Public Relations Officer
Sophia Monica V. San Luis