Tell it to SunStar: Senate panel gains more inputs on strengthening Constitution

·3 min read

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes chaired by Sen. Robinhood “Robin” C. Padilla on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 gained more inputs on strengthening the 1987 Philippine Constitution, including beefing up the country’s defense against the threat of invasion and rebellion.

At the Senate panel’s fifth hearing, Padilla received insights from resource persons that include Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares, Demosthenes Donato of Tanggulang Demokrasya Inc. and professor Malou Tiquia of Publicus Asia.

“Today is a controversial day because different groups commemorate it differently. We are asking for your opinions, in the same way that we sought those of former senator Enrile,” he said in Filipino.

Padilla was referring to the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law, in which Enrile had played a major role. Colmenares was among those who opposed martial law, which was declared on Sept. 21, 1972.

But he also stressed that he meant for the hearing to gather inputs from the resource persons and not to generate a debate.

“This is not a debate. We are not going to debate. What is better is to learn from one another. Let us respect each other’s views because everything that will be said today will become part of our collective knowledge. That is also why I am speaking in Filipino because what everyone will say is valuable and should be understood by all Filipinos,” he said.

Enrile’s opinion

During the hearing, Enrile said it would be better to restore some provisions of the 1935 or 1973 Constitution, which allow the President to declare martial law if there is an “imminent threat” of invasion, insurrection or rebellion—unlike Section 18, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, which states that martial law can only be declared when these events are occurring.

“What is the use of martial law if the threat has already come to pass?” Enrile said in Filipino.

Enrile also favored clarifying the provision of the 1987 Constitution on the voting of the Senate and House of Representatives. He favored both houses voting separately.

On the appointment of judges and members of the Judiciary, Enrile favored a return to the system where all presidential appointees are subject to confirmation, so Congress can exercise its function of exacting “accountability” for public funds it appropriates.

“Having been a participant of the government under the 1935, 1973 and 1987...constitutions of the Philippines,” Enrile said, “I’d rather we go back to the system under the 1935 Constitution.” (Among the provisions in the 1935 Constitution include the two four-year terms for the president.)

No to federalism

On the other hand, Colmenares said he is not in favor of shifting the form of government to federalism, pointing out that it is no guarantee of progress. He cited the case of Somalia, one of the world’s poorest countries. “Look at Somalia. Somalia is federal,” he said.

In his presentation, Colmenares also pointed out the reasons why previous attempts to amend the 1987 Constitution have not succeeded, including the attempts by some lawmakers to insert their “personal interests.”

“Our poverty now is not due to the Constitution, so amending it is not the solution,” he said.

For her part, Tiquia stressed the need to make sure national progress will include all areas, not just Luzon or Metro Manila.

“Progress should not be limited to Metro Manila or Luzon. After all, even Muslims in Mindanao and residents of Visayas help pay our national debts,” said Tiquia.