How to Tame your Dragons

By now everybody has heard the famous historic line uttered by former Philippine President Quezon, ” Better a Philippines ruled like hell by Filipinos, rather than one ruled like heaven by the Americans.”  What usually gets lost is what he says immediately after that, “…because we can always change it later.”

Because we can always change it later.

This was surely a nod to charter change,or at least the ability of the people and their elected officials to refine the country’s laws and tinker with its institutions.  It is common sense, after all, to amend and modify things as circumstances and needs change or when something is found to be flawed or deficient.  The US consitution, for example, has 33 amendments, while the Indian constitution has 100.

Of course, as I have fully realized by now, common sense does not always prevail.  It is especially absent when it comes to changing the Philippine constitution, i.e charter change or cha cha (as usual, everything deserves a cutesie nickname).  The automatic reflex reaction is that tampering with the constitution is a big no no, a mortal sin.  The Constitution is sacred, they say.  People seem to have the idea that the 1987 Philippine constitution was handed down straight by God, carved by lightining into stone tablets.

True, many Filipinos today were not even born or were too young to remember the circumstance around the writing of the 1987 constitution.  Old fogey that I am, I happened to be living in Manila at that time and remember those circumstances clearly.  Marcos recently ousted, a fledgling government struggling under the weight of many coup attempts, political coalitions starting to crack, a strong nationalistic feeling that with the dictator gone, anything was possible.  It is against this backdrop that the drafting and eventual ratification of what I would call “The Cory Constitution” was passed.  Very much evident was the imprint of the “left” — in terms of the prohibition of foreign military bases, the foreign investment restrictions, etc.  The Cory Constitution was a clear product of the times, and it was quickly ratified, as it should have been, by a people who wanted to give stability to the new government.

No constitution is perfect; that is why amendments are necessary.  In this current case, where only the economic provisions are being tweaked (Note: since the time of this writing, the Congressional push to amend even just the economic provisions has beed shelved); it seems well warranted given the overly restrictive foreign investment restrictions in the Philippines vis-a-vis its neighbors.  The arguments about competition, globalization, unemployment and the lack of domestic risk capital–all ring true and are hard to deny.  Furthermore, what good is an investment grade rating, if the Philippines only allows “hot money” to come in via the stock market?  The majority of Filipinos do not even own stocks.

So pardon me if all this hand-wringing and neo-nationalistic, protectionist talk makes me a bit edgy.  The proposed economic amendments seem like no-brainers to me.  I would actually like to see the Philippine constitution amended even in its political provisions to bring back the parliamentary system (as was originally intended, before the 1986 ConCon delegates decided on a bicameral American style system, as a further step to distance itself from the Marcos past).

Ah, but then THAT would bring out the dragons for sure.


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