(This article was written by Jose V. Abueva at STARWEEK/Sunday magazine of The Philippine Star on October 15, 1995. Below is a section from his article of his interview with the late Justice Palma.).
Q: What is so hot about the 1987 Constitution? Why are you fierce in your defense of it?
A: To me the 1987 holds a very particular historical significance. From the times of Rizal, Bonifacio and Mabini the Filipino people have manifested their desire for national independence and recognition of their rights as freedom-loving people.
We finally attained our independence, we became a free democratic nation; we survived the Japanese Occupation and regained our lost liberties; but then came an authoritarian regime imposed by one of our own countrymen and with it the existing democratic institutions crumbled, the basic rights of the citizenry to justice and freedom were desecrated and abolished. We suffered under the dictatorship for more than a decade.
Then came the people’s peaceful revolution we call EDSA in 1896. The dictator and his cohorts fled and with them the dictatorship President Corazon Aquino, true to her election pledge that she will restore democracy, created in no time a Constitutional Commission to draft a new Charter for the people.
And so the 1987 Constitution was born, democracy was restored, the Filipino people are free again. The 1987 Charter stands firm and strong in its vision and mission to uphold and preserve justice and freedom and the Rule of Law.
Why am I so fierce in my defense of the 1987 Charter? Because it contains so many “firsts”, among them:
- The use of the word “love” in the Preamble; without love for the country, people and fellowmen, there can be no peace for us;
- Prohibition of nuclear weapons;
- A Bill of Rights and provisions against dictatorship, concentration of power and death, monopolies and political dynasties;
- Equality before the law of women and men; protection of the family as a social basic institution based on marriage; right to life; responsible parenthood;
- Free and quality education;
- Social justice, particularly for marginalized sectors of society: disabled, veterans, indigenous communities, farmers, fisherfolk, etc.;
- Commission on Human Rights which is tasked to monitor violations and complaints and act of them;
- Independence on the judiciary through the Judicial and Bar Council which will screen and nominate to the President candidates for the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. This is a terrific innovation because the choice is no longer exclusive to the Executive power and politicians; now, the Supreme Court is directed to decide authority by the Executive or officers concerned;
- It is very pro-Filipino. Is this wrong? Of course not! A national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos. But foreign investments are welcome except for certain limitations only with respect to our natural resources and public utilities.
Conclusion; the Charter does not obstruct economic progress; on the contrary, because it assures political stability, there is confidence in businessmen getting involved in our economic agenda.
That is why I am pledged to defend the Charter with all the force of my being so that never, never again will authoritarianism, greed for power and wealth will destroy our liberties and freedoms.
Q: What to you is the single biggest contribution of the 1987 Constitution to the Filipino people?
A: Of course, the 1987 Charter can be truly proud of many significant provisions, but if I am asked to choose one, the I believe it is the creation of the well-balanced structure of government, where each of the three branches executive, legislative, and judiciary is equal to and independent of each other but working in coordination with safeguards against abuse of authority by one of the other. In other words, there is the check and balance system followed under the Rule of Law. This to me is important because it is with a strong stable structure of government that provisions on social justice, human rights, people empowerment, public accountability, etc., can and will be implemented and realized.
Q: What is the single biggest flaw of the 1987 Constitution?
A: Forgive me if I cannot point to what you would call a flaw, mistake or error that could be termed substantial or fundamental. Maybe it is lengthy as some way, but is that a flaw as long as the provisions have a particular purpose? Maybe there are grammatical mistakes of the style is awful as some critics say; we are not perfect, and surely a Constitution need not to be amended simply to correct style, grammar, etc.
Q: Some critics say that the 1987 Constitution was too much a reaction to the excesses of the Marcos dictatorship. Do you think that this criticism is valid?
A: I will admit that the 1987 Constitution reacts to the Marcos dictatorship, and that precisely is the merit of this document.
It contains safeguards, guarantees against the return of authoritarianism, desecration of the basic rights of the people, concentration of power, authority and resources in the hands of few. I see in this document the ideals and principles I fought for during my term as Justice of the Supreme Court.
The 1987 Constitution is what I may call a “liberating document”. As I stated earlier, it stands as the vanguard of the people’s ultimate dream for a peaceful, just and free nation.
Q: What can you say about the “flaws” of the 1987 Constitution as pointed out by certain Congressmen?
A: I read in one of the local dailies an enumeration of flaws in the 1987 Constitution , which according to some make it necessary to introduce amendments or revise the document.
To me, they are silly, such as, that the Constitution is too lengthy, provisions “as may be provided by law ”, are frequent, and the use of the terms . “Almighty God” instead of “Divine Providence”, “love”, “nationalism”, etc., is too religious or ambiguous.
My goodness, how can those so-called “critics” be so shallow? And to those who propose to revise the form of government from presidential to parliamentary because it is claimed that the present set-up is the cause of all the ills of the country, I would simply state that the proposal is a camouflage of the real reason behind the change—which is to eliminate limitations of terms of elective officials so that they can perpetuate themselves in power.
Should they not bow their head in shame as they would sacrifice our fundamental charter on the block of self –interest and unbridled ambition as if theirs is the monopoly of talent and capacity to serve?
My appeal and warning to our people is found in the words of none other than the great nationalist, Claro M. Recto, President of the Constitutional Convention of 1935 who said: … “to drive away all danger of anarchy as well as the dictatorship whether by one man or few, it is necessary that both the government authorities and the people faithfully observe and obey the Constitution…” Let us not tamper with the 1987 Charter!