Bernardo M. Villegas
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Civil Society for Constitutional Reforms (Part 1)

          Reforming Philippine society to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth is painstakingly slow that some times one is tempted to give up.  Even President Duterte realizes how difficult it is to promote good governance and fight corruption. In a less than a year of his Administration, he has sacked a good number of officials he appointed himself and whom he trusted as good and loyal friends because they were not beyond reproach.  No society can progress very much without a clean and efficient State.  When can we reach that desirable goal?  Probably not in my lifetime, considering how other countries very much ahead of us in economic development like South Korea and Malaysia still have their shares of corruption scandals.

         I console myself, however, that the Philippines is fortunate for having a civil society sector that is  one of the most developed in the world.  This civil society oftentimes compensates for the ineptitude and lack of integrity of government officials.  There are really thousands of nongovernmental organizations that are assiduously working for the common good in fighting poverty, improving governance, educating the masses, preserving Philippine culture, protecting the physical environment, strengthening the Filipino family, overcoming gender and other forms of discrimination, fighting crime, and addressing human trafficking and the drug problem.  And many more.  Although some may disagree, I attribute this strength of Philippine civil society to two factors:  the Christian culture we inherited from the Spanish colonizers and the spirit of voluntarism learned from the Americans.  As documented by a professor of history at the University of Asia and the Pacific, Dr. Juan Mesquida, charitable foundations for the sick, for the poor and the needy founded by Catholic lay people, were already important institutions during the Spanish colonial times.  I am not even referring here to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that religious orders, especially of nuns, have put up very early in the history of Christianity.  As regards the spirit of voluntarism in the United States, one can only read the writings of French social philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville about the dynamism of American civil society very early in their history as a democratic nation.

         I would like to pay tribute in this article to an NGO that has been working for the improvement of Philippine democracy.  I am referring to Tanggulang Demokrasya (TanDem), Inc., an association of distinguished professionals led by Chairperson Evelyn Kilayko and President Teresita Daza-Baltazar with the expert legal assistance of Atty. Demosthenes Donato. TanDem patiently and laboriously organized a series of Roundtable Discussions (RTD) in which they engaged experts on the issue of amending the 1987 Philippine Constitution  to help the present and future Governments to promote inclusive growth, that is, growth that will improve the lives of the impoverished masses.  Let me go for the jugular.  After mustering some very powerful arguments culled from leading economists, political scientists, sociologists, philosophers, and legal experts, they are recommending the following:

         a)   The amendment of the 1987 Constitution and conduct of the required plebiscite on or about the next national and local elections set on the second Monday of May in the year 2019 under the term of office of the incumbent Duterte administration, to repeal ALL limitations, restrictions and prohibitions against foreign investments and services, to the end that the Constitution will embody only the general principles governing the national economy and patrimony, leaving specific economic policies to the wisdom of the legislative branch of government.

         b)   Pending the amendment of the l987 Constitution, the urgent repeal of congressional statutes that impose limitations, restrictions and prohibitions against foreign investments and services, to the full extent practicable and beneficial, subject to the principle of international reciprocity and the protection of the basic securities of the State through the institution of a Foreign Investment Council.

         c) Pending the amendment of the 1987 Constitution, the immediate repeal of implementing rules and regulations that impose limitations, restrictions and prohibitions against foreign investments and services, notwithstanding the lack of any constitutional or statutory bases for the limitation, to promptly initiate the progressive pursuit of liberalization of foreign direct investments to augment local investments for national development and job creation.

         With due respects to the other surviving members of the Philippine Commission of 1986 that drafted the Philippine Constitution of l987, some of whom are not in favor of amending the Constitution, I fully endorse the recommendations of TanDem. They capture very faithfully the personal opinions I held as a member of the Philippine Commission about the need to open the national economy to foreign investments. I was, however, constantly overruled by the majority of the Commissioners who held protectionist and ultra-nationalistic views that led to the restrictive provisions enshrined in our present Constitution. Having participated in the RTDs organized by TanDem I can attest to the fact that its  members had nothing but the common good of the Filipinos, especially the needy and the poor, in mind.  May their tribe increase.  In the second part of this article, I outline the strong and lucid arguments that they presented for their recommendations.  (To be continued).