When President Corazon Aquino established the Fifth Philippine Republic in 1987, she set forth a new constitution that in theory would eliminate the “excesses” of previous administrations. Foremost among these was the “Martial Law” clause that, in the event that a seated President would declare it, would allow it to pass through Congress first; Post-Marcos, this was only used once.
The more timely issue with the current Constitution is its economic protectionist policies, which restrict foreign ownership of businesses to only 40%. Numerous attempts to amend the Constitution, particularly to Article XIII where the 60/40 clause is mentioned, have been put forward since the 1990’s; all attempts have failed due to a popular fear of a return to “dictatorial tendencies.”
But even beyond these two issues, it is increasingly clear that the 1987 Constitution, untouched since its inception, is rigid, outdated and inadequate. The zeitgeist that gave birth to it is long dead. It is perhaps timely that after nearly three decades of its existence, the 1987 Constitution of the Fifth Philippine Republic needs to be replaced.
The world has obviously changed a lot since 1987. Notwithstanding the new threat of ideological warfare and terrorism, the geopolitical maps and ecological balances that defined the Decade of Excess have morphed — for better or for worse, but that’s not the point. Many Filipinos’ lives have taken for the worse, while its neighbors around the South China Sea have adapted to suit the needs of their own people.
So why does the Fifth Philippine Republic need to die?
THE PROLIFERATION OF OLIGARCHIC MONOPOLIES. Like it or not, all the Presidents that have defined the Fifth Republic have only served the whims of the Philippine moneyed elite, in large part due to the 60/40 clause. Only around 40 families control the bulk of Philippine wealth, monopolizing vast swathes of land and public utilities, raising prices unnecessarily and barely making a dent in alleviating poverty. As a result, middle-class individuals are forced to break tight-knit family traditions and seek wealth elsewhere.
ENVIRONMENTAL NEGLECT. The 1987 Constitution does not provide for a clear declaration of how to preserve or enrich the natural resources of the Philippines. None of the environmental laws that have been created since then have actually improved on the country’s ecology, and after 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan is now the most ecologically fragile in the world. This, despite the existence of inherent environmental clauses in the Constitutions of other countries also vulnerable to ecological collapse.
DISREGARD FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES. One of the more unusual aspects of the 1987 Constitution is the maintenance of two “autonomous regions,” namely that of the Cordilleras of Luzon and of Muslim Mindanao. In theory this may seem palatable, but in practice it has led to more political confusion and unnecessary bloodshed. There are other indigenous peoples in the Philippines that are not mentioned in the 1987 Constitution whose lands are being exploited and literally treated like garbage. Yet, the centralized makeup of the government provided by the 1987 Constitution has done virtually nothing to respect the first nations of the Philippines.
A HEAVILY CENTRALIZED, FRIVOLOUS AND INEFFICIENT GOVERNMENT. It of course comes as no surprise that the taxes that an ordinary Filipino pays to supposedly help in the “development of the Philippines” doesn’t manifest itself that much in terms of economic, social or infrastructure improvements. Much of the policies that dictate where your taxes go are created by people who seem to have no interest in disclosing where it actually goes. Thus, essential areas such as sports, public works, disaster relief, military spending and health care are prone to corruption and drainage of funding, while money instead goes to renaming projects curiously close to the capital.
What I can see is that a new constitution, and in effect a new, Sixth Philippine Republic, can perhaps regress the perennial malaise that plagues the country today. Practically all the Constitutions the country has had from 1899 to 1987 have more or less copied the principles of the US Constitution; I propose that a future constitution (assuming it ever gets written) doesn’t have to go that same road anymore. The new constitution should adapt to the times and the geopolitics of the world today.
A government-centered socialist constitution for the Philippines would not work; although it has worked well for the Nordic nations, I know no one at the moment who would be willing to give up a large bulk of their income to the government in exchange for public services. The Nordic model worked for the Scandinavians because the majority of their people trusted their governments with their money, and the governments in turn treated their people well. The Philippines is too culturally heterogenous, too diverse and above all too populated for its people to trust everything to a centralized government. A Marxist/Communist constitution is out of the question as well; no Filipino I know is willing to give up their civil liberties and their love of owning things. It hasn’t worked for any nation, and no quip of “but this time it WILL work!” will convince me of its application. The constitution of the Sixth Philippine Republic must strip itself of protectionist economic policies, must be open to anyone who wants to invest, and must truly give freedom of enterprise.
A new constitution squarely based on Objectivist/Libertarian/Tea Party values won’t work, either. Instead, it must be open to allow for the government to provide for those who absolutely could not help themselves. Millions of Filipinos live below the poverty line, and the Constitutions that we’ve had over the years, labeled as “Libertarian” in principle, has not alleviated this condition. Forcing people to be selfish like Ayn Rand is a paradox, and telling all these people to simply get off their asses and “stop mooching for handouts” goes against traditional conservative Philippine values — the same values that are now deteriorating in the face of freewheeling capitalism. Singapore, frequently touted on this site as a capitalist model for what the Philippines could have been, nevertheless has socialized housing, mandatory social security and universal health care.
In terms of how the Philippines must face ecological threats, a new constitution must provide for contingency measures to mitigate its impact on the world. Other countries, regardless of economic status, have enshrined the right to a safe environment for their people, as well as the conservation and responsible exploitation of its cultural and natural resources. Given the constitutionally protected forest reservations of Gabon, to the marine sanctuaries around New Zealand, the Philippines has no excuse not to enshrine strict environmental regulations within a future constitution. Can a new constitution, for example, tackle the inevitable rise in sea levels that would happen within the next century, or the projected catastrophic collapse of its biodiversity? Can it make contingencies in the face of periodic food shortages and other perennial disasters?
Finally, the Sixth Republic must decentralize itself from Manila in order for its heterogenous cultures to be rewarded for their own contributions, as well as for them to be given a chance to grow culturally. But then, responsible oversight must still be wielded by the central government if it wishes the country to avoid Balkanization: coddling, browbeating and veiled threats never got a strong country anywhere.
The Fifth Philippine Republic, created by the first Aquino Administration, is stuck in a time bubble where a tangible systemic is desperately needed, but a vocal yet influential few refuse such change. With the way that the 2016 transfer of power is shaping up, the vision of constitutional transformation seems dim. Are Filipinos willing to accept the new geopolitical and ecological challenges that other nations are now waking up to and create a Sixth Republic, or will the Philippines lag behind as it has always did since 1987, with the fragile pretense of being “more fun“? I just hope I’m not alive if and when the country does choose the latter.
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