As we observe February 2 as Constitution Day, there can be only one pledge that we, the citizens, should make: Live by the Constitution.

It was on February 2, 1987, that a plebiscite was held for the ratification by the Filipino people of the new Constitution that was written by the 48 men and women who composed the Constitutional Commission of 1986.

On February 11, 1987, President Corazon C. Aquino issued a proclamation to the effect that the new Constitution was overwhelmingly approved by the Filipino people.

On January 29, 1988, Mrs. Aquino issued Proclamation 211 declaring the second day of February of each year as Constitution Day in order to instill in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people the democratic principle and the noble and lofty ideals enshrined in the Constitution, giving the Filipino people the opportunity to concentrate and dedicate themselves to the Constitution and ponder on the significance thereof.

Yes, it is imperative that we the Filipino people know what the constitution stands for, in order that we will knowingly be on guard and defend it against forces that would subvert the intent and spirit of the Charter even if clothed allegedly for the “national interest.”

It is a fundamental principle that sovereignty resides with the people and all government authority emanates from them (Art 1, Sec. 1, 1987 Constitution). However, it is an equally fundamental principle that when the people have decided to be governed under a written constitution, they are bound to respect and obey that fundamental charter under the Rule of Law.

From the book of a noted author on Constitutional limitation, let me quote: “By the Constitution they have established, they not only tie up the hands of their official agencies but their own hands as well; and neither the officers of the state nor the whole people as aggregate body are at liberty to take action in opposition to this fundamental law.”

Very appropriate indeed is a statement from a US court decision that “the Constitution is the protector of the people against injury by the people.”

I recall a Senate bill that sought to grant emergency powers to the President for the rehabilitation primarily because the Mindanao rehabilitation was not a “national emergency” as envisioned in the Constitution.

In 1996 there was a strong movement to effect changes in the Constitution. Again, “Demokrasya.” mobilized groups to oppose the proposed changes, which were principally focused on the change of form of government as well as the extension of the constitutional term limits of the incumbent President, senators and representatives. By good fortune, the movement fizzled out.

But there was one blow, a tragic one, which the 1987 Constitution suffered. This happened when the ongoing impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada was unceremoniously disrupted and discontinued and the issues on hand were brought to the parliament of the streets. The Rule of Law was set aside and the Rule of Force prevailed. Let not that tragedy happen again.

At present, we hear of much dissatisfaction with the present administration and there are persistent rumors of destabilization, etc. I can give only one reminder—we cannot cure one infirmity by committing another infirmity. Continued adherence to the Rule of Law is the only course of action that can be taken in the face of a political, social and economic crisis in the country today.

Reforms, if needed, should be achieved through meaningful dialogues and consultations among the President of the Republic, the political opposition and concerned sectors of the population.

These are but a few of the thoughts that gather in my mind as we observe Constitution Day. In the words of our eminent Constitutionalist, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., “The Filipino people are gifted with a living Constitution.”

Yes, our Charter embodies all the elements of a strong democracy and an expanded Bill of Rights that guarantees against the recurrence of a dictatorship and martial law. It is a pro-God, prodemocracy, pro-poor, and pro-Filipino. However, we the Filipino people can make our Constitution a “living” constitution if we live it and live by it.

By: Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma (SOURCE: TODAY, February 2, 2005)