COMMENTARY: Gang Rape of the Constitution

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews /08 June) — There is a gang rape ongoing. It is led by Speaker Sonny Belmonte and his gang of rapacious congressmen. It is to be joined by like-spirited senators. It is not a simple rape. It is multiple rape, violent and vicious. The victim: the Constitution.

The rapacious organ? The phrase: “unless otherwise provided by law,” inserted violently over and over again to kill the Constitution’s protection of the Filipino patrimony and its mandate to social justice.

In the national disarray that has seen the nation’s advocates for social justice divided – ironically – on the constitutionality of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, on the constitutionality of the K-12 basic education reform, and the ferocious unfinished debate about the presidential qualification or disqualification of a man alleged to be thoroughly corrupt and of a damsel presumed to be Filipina, the rape is proceeding surreptitiously to subjugate the Constitution to a sinister will whose master appears to be “more investments” (see the “whereas” clauses) but whose real masters seem to be big local business or powerful foreign interests. With practically no serious national discussion on the rationale and the effects of the proposed constitutional amendments, the “Resolution of Both Houses No. 01” was passed by the House viva voce without actual quorum, on the understanding that the Senate is immediately to follow their rapacious action as a matter of urgency.

With no free, informed, prior consent of their constituents, with the resolution still unpublished in the official congressional website, approval without amendment was endorsed by the House Committee on May 3, 2015 that “that by a vote of three –fourths (3/4) of all its Members, each House voting separately, and pursuant to Article VII of the Constitution, to propose amendments to Articles XII, XIV & XVI of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, with the following proposals…” Incredibly, the House has approved this rape. The Senate has calendared its participation in it.

For instance, pertinent to “all lands of the public domain, waters, mineral, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fishers, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna and other natural resources …owned by the state” the Constitution provides, “The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or association at least 60 per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens.” To this provision the joint congressional resolution now inserts: “unless otherwise provided by law.” The Constitutional provision precisely aimed at laying the ground rules in the national interest for all valid laws pertinent to such corporations exploiting the Filipino patrimony, is de-fanged by a killer provision which allows any law to disrespect or contradict this provision. “Unless otherwise provided by law” is license for lawmakers to craft laws in the best interest of foreign investors. We cannot say that such legislative treason is beyond lawmakers. Consider the current Philippine Mining Act (RA 7942) which allows foreigners to exploit Philippine minerals in a manner fully disadvantageous to the Filipino people. This was acknowledged in Pres. Aquino’s. E.O 79 on mining. The Constitution safeguards the national patrimony for the Filipino people, but the resolution allows lawmakers to totally disregard it.

For instance, pertinent to “Land of the public domain … classified as agriculture, forest or timber, mineral lands and national parks,” the Constitution provides: “Private corporations or associations may not hold such alienable lands of the public domain except by lease for a period not exceeding twenty-five years, renewable for not more than twenty-five years, and not to exceed one thousand hectares in area.” To this provision, the resolution appends, “unless otherwise provided by law.” This means that despite the Constitutional limits on the length of time a corporation may hold land and despite the Constitutional limitation to the size of land that may be held, Congress may legislate that owners, Filipino or foreign, may hold and exploit lands of the public domain, like mineral lands, for two hundred years. But what happens if the mining interests and activities of such a company displaces indigenous peoples like the B’laan of South Cotabato and threatens the integrity of the fresh water supply of Mindanao? What happens if a foreign company, that can be Swiss, Canadian or Chinese, is so capital strong that it can handle mineral exploration and exploitation in 25,000 has. of our national patrimony, and does so , not to contribute to the development of the Philippine common weal but to maximize its profits and strengthen its own foreign economy? Would not such investments deprive the Philippine economy of valuable irreplaceable minerals its own entrepreneurs may wish to mine, exploit and utilize in the interests of the Philippine economy?

For instance, pertinent to Philippine education, the Philippine Constitution provides: “Educational institutions, other than those established by religious groups and mission boards, shall be owned solely by citizens of the Philippines or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of the capital of which is owned by such citizens.” To this safeguard the resolution now inserts the rapacious clause, “unless otherwise provided by law.” This means that law may provide that schools owned, operated and controlled by foreigners may now operate in our country. The rapacious clause does not limit this to higher education, where academic freedom is more appropriate, nor elucidate the framework within which foreign universities might interact with local universities. It would allow fully foreign owned and foreign controlled schools to operate even on the level of basic education where foundational life-long values of the students are formed. What if a school spouting the values of materialism in global free-market world has no interest in the value, makabayan, and no interest the promotion of the Filipino common weal?

This rape is vicious because it hurts precisely those people which the Constitution seeks to help, the socially disadvantaged, the marginalized, the excluded, under the alibi of bringing in more investments. At least a discussion, similar to that on the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law or the K-12 reform, of the proposed Constitutional amendments in the light of the social justice provisions of the Constitution and a genuine national dialogue on the desirability of the changes should have preceded the approvals.

Where the Constitution is involved, more real thought should have been provided by our legislators to specify the changes desired rather than the use of the rapacious clause “unless otherwise provided by law” to cover their theoretical vacuity. The changes proposed do not dismantle the “economy that excludes,” which Pope Francis condemns in Evangelii Gaudium (# 53-54). They strengthen it.

Finally, the gang rape opens up the Constitution to change of any of its other provisions. Defensive statements of legislators that this is not so are neither credible nor true. That means, from a constituent assembly or constitutional convention called prior to the next election to amend “economic provisions” of the constitutions, other provisions of the Constitution like the mandate for autonomous regions, the protection of academic freedom, and term limits may be disturbed. To do this before a regular national election is insane. It may even create a scenario where no elections are possible, extending the President’s term without a formal extension.

The multiple gang rape of the Constitution is a heinous crime.

(Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ is president of the Ateneo de Davao University. He is also Vice President of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and chair of its Advocacy Committee, and President of the CEAP in Region 11. MindaNews was granted permission to reprint this piece, first published in Fr. Tabora’s blog, and in Manila Times on June 8, 2015)