A GROUP of mostly prominent academics and professionals throughout the country, including those for a shift to federal form of government, yesterday expressed its strong opposition to charter change moves at this time because the “present environment is not conducive to reforming the Constitution.”
Signing the statement on prospect for constitutional reforms, “No to Con-ass,” were 323 mostly academic leaders of the country, including Ateneo presidents, and professionals.
Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan president Roberto Yap was on top of the list of signatories. Other Ateneo presidents who signed it were Fr. Joel Tabora (Davao), Karel San Juan (Zamboanga), Fr. Jose Ramon Villarin (Manila), Fr. Roberto Rivera (Naga).
Other known academics like former education secretary and current De La Salle Philippines president Armin Luistro, and Asian Institute of Management professor emeritus Edilberto de Jesus also signed the statement.
Fr. Primitivo Viray Jr., superior of Jesuits in the Philippine Province of the Society of Jesus, also signed the statement, a copy of which was sent to this paper by the XU Communications Office.
In it, the group rejected calls for constitutional reforms through a constituent assembly. It also opposed moves to postpone or cancel the 2019 elections.
Reads part of the statement: “We, the undersigned academics and professionals, are expressing our deep concern as regards the process of reviewing and possibly amending our Constitution.
“We acknowledge the importance of discussing ways to improve governance in the country, particularly when it comes to a possible shift to a new, federal form of government. Some of us actually support federalism, while others oppose it. We have nevertheless united in this common statement to acknowledge the importance of evidence-based debate and discussion to root out the main benefits and costs of such a reform.”
The group said the process must be much more participatory given the far-reaching implications of the proposed constitutional reforms, and must involve “not just those who are for this reform, but also those who oppose it.”
The group said international policy experience and evidence suggest that constitutional reforms are more effective if deliberations are front-loaded at the crafting stage, rather than belatedly appended once these reforms are already ratified.
It added: “The present environment is not conducive to reforming the constitution.”
It cited results of most recent nationwide surveys of the Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia that show that only 25 percent of citizens sufficiently understand the existing Constitution, while only 37 percent support the shift to federalism.
The group said it has noted that 64 percent of Filipinos are against Charter change, and that “changing the constitution” also ranked last in the “most urgent national concerns” with only three percent of Filipinos saying that it should be acted upon immediately.
Reads another part of the statement: “We do not support calls to channel this reform through a Constituent Assembly.
“Almost 80% of Congress is comprised of political dynasties, and the empirical evidence suggests that a majority of them may face a deep conflict of interest if a new constitution aims for reforms that level the political playing field. The risk of capture by vested interests affecting our present politics is too great.
“We do not support calls to postpone or cancel elections in 2019.”
The group said there are more pressing and immediate policy challenges that the country’s leaders should address.
They cited the following:
- The rising death toll linked to the anti-drugs campaign, which now includes many children and young people.
- The killings of political leaders and priests also further raise the spectre of injustice.
- Rising prices of basic commodities, transportation, and other needs are also hitting the poor, our workers, and millions of low-income households.
“If these are unresolved, then how can we credibly unite around ‘rule of law’ and ‘human rights’ under an amended constitution?” the group asked rhetorically. “A Constitution is supposed to bind our nation in common values and a shared vision. It is the very glue that should unite us all in common purpose. If we are to amend the Constitution, we must invest not just in the outcome, but in the very process.”
The group also said this broad discussion must bring together citizens from all walks of life, professions, and political leanings. “It is a national discourse that must allay fears, clarify concerns, and bring us all towards common ground.”