Filipino bishops urge careful discernment for 1987 constitution amendment

By Santosh Digal

Cebu City: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has urged people to carefully discern well for the change of 1987 Constitution and shifting from a unitary to a parliamentary form of government.

The bishops called people “to form or reactivate circles of discernment and use your freedom as God’s children to discern, participate, discuss, and debate. Have an informed conscience and decide in the light of Gospel values. Do what is necessary. Persuade our legislators to do only what is genuinely for the good of all on this issue of Charter change,” CBCP president Romulo G. Valles, Archbishop of Davao said, after three days of their 116th plenary assembly at the Cebu city, southern Philippines.

The reported aim of Charter change (changing of Constitution and shifting to federalism) is to shift from a unitary to a parliamentary form of government in various shapes that would govern federal states. It is often claimed that there is a necessity of devolving powers from the central government to the Federal States.

“Is it necessary to change the Charter in order to devolve power? Many constitutional and legal experts do not seem to think so. What is truly needed for a genuine devolution of power according to them, is a full implementation of the Constitution, the creation of enabling laws, and some revisions on the Local Government Code, and a more decisive effecting of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act. Only these, they believe, can ensure that self-determination and decentralization of powers, both political and financial, are in fact realized,” the CBCP president said.

Moreover, a major objection to a federal system that devolves power to the Federal States on an equal basis will not satisfactorily address the aspirations of the Muslims and Indigenous groups such as Lumads in Mindanao for self-determination and respect for ancestral rights, the archbishop said.

To change or not to change the Constitution, that is the fermenting political question of the day. The move for Charter change is and has been, the proposed vehicle to adopt Federalism as a new form of government. But ignored in the welter of political opinions regarding Charter change is the fundamental moral dimension of this human political action.

Today, encouraged by the Social Doctrine of the Church, as articulated in the teachings of many Popes and the teachings of Plenary Council of the Philippines – II the bishops make their moral stand clear and forthright.

On the matter of changing the 1987 Constitution, the CBCP has declared its moral stand not only once but at least five times since 1987.

It began with a moral judgment in 1986 declaring that, though imperfect, the provisions of the draft 1987 Constitution were consistent with the Gospel. In subsequent attempts at Charter change by legislators, bishops’ moral stand was and remains consistent, namely: “Amending the fundamental law of the land, so carefully crafted for the common good after years of dictatorship, requires widespread peoples’ participation and consultation, unity of vision, transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate.”

A critique of the Charter Change Movement was done based on four principles stand out as bases for moral judgment on this current move towards Charter change: the principle of Human Dignity and Human Rights, the Principle of Integrity and Truth, the Principle of Participation and Solidarity, and the principle of the Common Good.

“If the Constitution is to be revised at all, the process should lead to a greater defense and promotion of the above-mentioned moral values of human dignity and human rights, integrity and truth, participation and solidarity, and the common good,” the bishops said.

“These are the moral translations of the political critique on Charter change, to wit, the broadening and deepening of the differentiated institutions of democracy, the enhancing of the separation and distinction of various forms of state powers, the fostering of social justice, the resolution of issues of massive poverty, corruption, patronage politics, political dynasties, centralization of power in the so-called “imperial Manila,” and the blatant disregard for human rights (e.g., in the campaign against illegal drugs),” the statement said.

“It is hoped with these aspirations in mind that the members of the consultative committee recently appointed by the President to review the 1987 Constitution carry out the task expected of them,” the CBCP president stressed.

As servant leaders, the bishops said they have listened to many others who believe that the solution to these problems is not a revision of the Constitution, but a full implementation of the 1987 Constitution (e.g., on political dynasties and on freedom of information), and a revision of the Local Government Code, originally designed to devolve power from central authority, following the moral principle of subsidiarity.

“We have also heard the views of those who believe that the solution we seek is ultimately the transformation of our political culture, the eradication of a political mindset of personalities, pay-offs, and patronage – a culture that is entrenched in our present political structures and practices. Without conversion of mindsets, the new political wine of Charter change will remain in old political wine-skins, and merely end up bursting the hope for a new political culture,” the CBCP president said.

CBCP was established in 1945 and it meets twice in a year—January and June. It has 86 dioceses in a Catholic-majority country.

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