What should we think about Charter Change? Congress is now starting to discuss the issue. An issue that deals with the central and most fundamental document of the land is the concern of all citizens.
In their 1977 comprehensive Pastoral Exhortation on politics, the Bishops of the Philippines wrote the following:
“We believe that the way to unity is to unconditionally, unequivocally and irrevocably terminate all attempts to revise the Constitution at this time. When the time does come, let it be done with widespread participation and a unity of vision, with total transparency and serenity, with reasons unarguably directed to the common good rather than to the self-serving interests of politicians…” (No. 45).
Should the bishops say the same thing today? Here is my own opinion on the matter.
Prudence is a moral virtue. It is right judgment about what needs to be done. It is both moral and practical wisdom. Neither good intention nor charity suffices. Charity forms a good intention. But charity has to be guided by prudence. “A prudent person knows how to find the right means for a good end.” (Michael Downey, ed. The New Dictionary of Spirituality, 1993, “Prudence”, p. 1005). Prudence is the moral virtue that is needed to discern what must be done for the common good.
Prudence or moral wisdom is necessary when considering the issue of Charter Change. We need to consider the following, among others:
1. Will Charter Change solve our political and economic problems? I would submit that the answer is No. We cannot blame the Constitution for our political problems. They are of our own making. These problems are basically rooted in the way we see and use politics as a politics of patronage, of personalities, and of pay-offs. The craving for political power is colored by this exploitation of politics for goals foreign to the common good. Political divisiveness, adversarial politics, political gridlock, hypercritical politics, political pettiness – these are some of the results of such mental framework. For the same reasons, electoral processes are easily tainted with dishonesty. Charter Change is not, a much less the, solution. A Constitution is as good as the people and their leaders make it to be. Similarly, the Constitution does not make people poor. What makes people poor is injustice, the diversion of government funds to vested interests, or worse, to pockets unknown, three decades of misdirected economic development, the bias for a macro-view of economic development to the neglect of “the little people”, lack of access for the poor to economic opportunities, unjust distribution of resources and the benefits of development, etc. (see other reasons in CBCP 1998 Pastoral Exhortation on Economics, 1998). Therefore, the priorities today are political and economic reforms, especially the renewal of persons and the reform of policies. Charter Change is certainly not the priority.
2. Will Charter Change be beneficial? Considering the urgent needs of the country, I submit that the answer is No. Our legislators are targeting 2004, less than two years from now, as the time for Charter Change. Until then our legislators will spend a lot of valuable time discussing matters of Charter Change rather than focusing on the urgent ans serious needs of the country. The total process of Charter Change will eat up billions of pesos that could be used for micro-economic initiatives of the poor so urgently needed today. Charter Change at this time would simply be counter-productive. It distracts the attention and interests of legislators and people from the real problems that beset the country.
3. Is Charter Change timely? I submit that the answer is No. Charter Change in 2004 is absolutely premature. The main issue that proponents of Charter Change wish to tackle is the question of the form of government. Will it be parliamentary? Will it be federalist? Or is the present system adequate? These are questions that require widespread participation, not merely the so-called barangay consultations or “signature campaigns” that we all know about and are amused by, simply because of the lack of any time for intelligent and mature discussion provided for the people. Given many other issues regarding the Constitution that should be discussed by the people in general, the time before 2004 is just too short for such people participation.
Therefore, what the Bishops in 1998 wrote is still very true today. The time has not yet come for Charter Change. “When the time does come, let it be done with widespread participation and a unity of vision, with total transparency and serenity, with reasons unarguably directed to the common good…”
Prudence or moral wisdom urged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo not to run for the presidency in 2004, but to concentrate all her efforts during her remaining time to solving the economic problems of the country. Moral wisdom would also demand that our legislators concentrate all their efforts toward the same objective in collaboration with the President, rather than on Charter Change.
(Note: this is a reprint of an article of Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, OMI, that appeared in the CBCP Monitor, January 12, 2003)