By Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, LL.M
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives have indicated that they are about to move into the Cha-Cha phase of this administration’s national development plan. The debate being framed now is between Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) versus Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass).
I expect this debate to be spirited, but I hope it will also be enlightening for all Filipinos. However, be reminded that we still need to ask this question: What are the aspects of the 1987 Constitution that need to be revised or removed altogether?
For instance, there is that popular push to open industries in our economy to foreign ownership to make the country more enticing to investors. If this eventuates, it is plausible to imagine esteemed institutions such as Harvard and Carnegie Mellon establishing a campus in Baguio, Dumaguete or Marawi.
Would having these world-class universities setting shop in regions outside of Metro Manila be a fulfilment of the mandate in Article XIV, Section 1? That the State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.
Clearly, a robust and educational discussion on the further liberalization of sectors in our economy such as education, media, and advertising is warranted.
Then there is this confusion in our national language in Article XIV. Section 7 provides that, “For purposes of communication and instruction, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and, until otherwise provided by law, English.” To complicate matters further, it also directs that, “The regional languages are the auxiliary official languages in the regions and shall serve as auxiliary media of instruction therein.”
In sum, we have one national language, which is Filipino, but we also have two official languages, which are Filipino and English. And as far as I know, no law has ever been passed to remove the status of the latter as such. In fact, until now the language of government, of legislation, and of the courts in the Philippines is English.
Then we also have auxiliary languages or regional dialects that are contemplated to function as a third level means of communication within the regions where they are spoken. Hence, there are technically over a hundred auxiliary languages operating all over the country.
When set against reality, this neat arrangement of Philippine languages does not really stack up. The fact is most Filipinos commonly relate with English because it is still the official language used by the state. Moreover, the usage of Filipino as the language of the nation could be suspect because it is basically a Tagalog clone. And hence it is very rarely spoken by nationals outside the Tagalog region.
Our real experience of languages in the country necessitates a rethinking of the Constitutional designation of Filipino as a national language. Is it really necessary to have just one national language? Given the richness of our linguistic heritage, a robust and educational discussion on this matter is definitely warranted.
The truth is, we need to be asking more questions like those mentioned here. All Filipinos, wherever they may be, should make the effort and look for them in the text of the 1987 Constitution. And I think it would be wise for the Duterte administration to facilitate this constitutional analysis through a nation-wide public consultation process.
For Filipinos to undergo this civic exercise is extremely critical because they must be actively and directly involved in the drafting process. Note that constitutional revision or charter change or whatever it may be called, is fundamentally a nation re-building effort. Therefore, Filipinos must be prepared to present intelligent and coherent proposals as to what the new constitution should contain regardless if the mode chosen is Con-Con or Con-Ass.
Let me be clear now that participating in this debate between Con-Con or Con-Ass is still very important. But we also must recognize that save for a few proven patriots, both chambers of Congress have shown their potential to be a rubber-stamp of the administration. And worse, the recent decision of the Supreme Court in the Marcos burial case has revealed the true colors of this once noble institution.
Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that Filipinos, even those residing overseas, be extensively involved in the drafting process as well as to intently monitor the drafting body, be it a Con-Con or a Con-Ass.
Let us bear in mind that if Cha-Cha does push through, this is another chance for us to make a Philippines we can all be proud of.
Michael Yusingco is a freelance legislative and policy consultant based in Melbourne. He has a Masters degree in Law and Development from the University of Melbourne Law School. He is the author of Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.