Can there be real change in our country? For years, our problems remain the same. Poverty, corruption, violence, criminality, insurgency, unemployment, and underdevelopment are just some of our problems. I believe that our nation’s problems are systemic. It cannot be resolved by merely changing our leaders or by legislative measures or even by regime changes, which our country is prone to do for the last 50 years. Our responses to our problems are palliative. It is short lived despite a semblance of permanence by way of legislation. Many of our political leaders who profess change under the guise of reforms and democracy are those who hinder real change. They exploit our systems. They prefer to keep our national problems unresolved for their own selfish and family interests.
Our systemic problem is an issue inherent to our political system and legal system in general. It is not just an issue, but also a systems problem prone to operational malfunction. Our current political and legal systems do not fit and reflect our nature, strength and will as a people. They cannot help us achieve our full potential to be a strong and progressive nation. They are inefficient. They are incapable of addressing our weaknesses. They breed corruption. A systemic problem needs to be resolved structurally. A systems change or an upgrade is needed or even replace it if necessary. The question is, “To effect real change, where do we start?”
We start with the constitution, the foundation of our political and legal systems. To put our constitution in order is an important move to real change. The decision of the current administration to review the constitution as part of its agenda to shift to a federal system of government is an opportunity to make the needed adjustments to strengthen our constitution. The assurance of continuity and permanence are the important aspects that must be established in the process. We have replaced our constitution six times since the Malolos Constitution. This is a clear manifestation of a weak constitution. It is a condition that put our nation at risk.
A constitution is supposed to be a rule book that guides the affairs of a nation. It represents the true will of the people. It is the body of fundamental laws and principles for governance. It defines the role and conduct of everyone. It controls political and economic activities. It is a security blanket to ensure stability in the political and legal systems. However, our current constitution does not reflect these qualifications. If we based it from our original constitution, ours is a corrupted constitution. It is unstable and unsecured. It has malfunctioned six times. It is threatened by the political/economic elite and the oligarchy. It primarily serves their interests. It hardly serves the needs of the general population.
I would define constitutional security as, “A condition in which the constitution is representative of the true will of the people and it is effectively upheld and defended.” In consonance with our concept of national security, it is similar to how our constitution should be permanently protected and continuously enhanced. Even in the face of political conflicts and legal challenges, the constitution is upheld and defended. Any act to undermine or reduce its effectiveness is considered a threat to the constitution and to the nation as a whole. It is an act to defy the will of our people.
Constitutional security indicates the strength, reliability, and control of the constitution. The constitution is not vulnerable to being tampered, overruled or overthrown. It can withstand risks from non-compliance, unmerited amendment, wrong interpretation, and replacement. While the constitution is not immutable, it can be enhanced to make it more stable and responsive to the opportunities and challenges of the times. Any changes should be made in accordance with the constitution.
If the constitution is weak, it is often replaced. A nation with a weak constitution experiences slow growth and chaos with the ruling political and economic elite exploiting and dominating the affairs of the state. It is incapable of controlling political activities and government affairs. The constitution simply becomes a tool for the elite and the oligarchy. It is a protective shield for their selfish interest.
If you look into progressive and stable nations, their original constitutions remain strong. It has endured through their years in their nation. Among them are Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Italy, Finland, USA, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, India, and South Korea. On the other hand, most of the underdeveloped and problematic countries have replaced their constitutions several times. An indication that their constitutions are weak. They are weak in terms of substance and implementation. All South American countries and most of African and Middle East countries are examples of those that have undergone many constitutions. The Dominican Republic has the highest of 32 constitutions.
The consequence of a weak constitution is constitutional instability and discontinuity. A condition in which a constitution cannot be upheld by the government and by the people. The nations that underwent several constitutions are politically and economically unstable and problematic. The elite dominates and controls their political and legal systems. Political parties that came into power faced plots of regime change and were overthrown thru extra-constitutional means. Having replaced our constitutions six times, we are similar to these politically and economically unstable nations.
Constitutional security can only be achieved through several factors. One is acceptability of the constitution. Acceptability indicates that it represents the true will of the people. It means the acceptance of all citizens and political entities to abide strictly by the provisions of the constitution. Everyone agrees to be ruled by it. Thus, the rule of law prevails.
The present constitution reflects the will of the minority. It reflects the will of the anti-Marcos forces and not the majority of our people. The only way to make the constitution acceptable is to re-frame it thru amendments or replace it totally. The will of every region must be reflected in the upgraded or new constitution to make it acceptable. Federalism will be the common platform to fulfill all these wills. If the present political condition will not allow the reframing of the constitution, then the only recourse is to declare Martial Law or a revolutionary government to accomplish this.
Second is the strong capacity of our government institutions to uphold and defend the constitution must be established. Institutional safeguards which include implementing rules, procedures, processes, controls and backup systems to uphold and defend all the provisions of the constitution must be established. One example is the Presidential Succession Act of the US. This is an example of an implementing rule for the line of succession provided for in the US Constitution.
Third is creating a culture of constitutionality and the rule of law among our people. The culture of upholding and defending the constitution must be a made as an important value to be nurtured by every Filipino. A nationwide program can be undertaken to educate our people on the importance of the constitution and their sense of duty to come to its defense in times when it is threatened.
This is a golden opportunity today to institute constitutional security. The agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte to shift to federalism as well in the review of the constitution are timely strategic measures to address our national problems. These two initiatives for structural adjustments in our political and legal systems are badly needed to achieve our national goals and to solve our national problems. In his six months of tenure, President Rodrigo Duterte has shown a strong determination to undertake necessary programs despite resistance from local and international bodies. He is willing to break institutional barriers to solving problems. He also understands pretty well our problems. With these leadership qualities plus a strong support from the majority of the Filipino people, I believe that he has the capacity to bring these two initiatives to fruition. I pray that he will consider constitutional security in the whole process as a way to strengthen also our constitution and ensure its acceptability, enforceability, and durability. This is a giant step towards real change.
What is the role of a soldier in constitutional security?
A soldier is taught to be loyal to the constitution. When I was a plebe, I often recited the Code of Conduct of the Filipino Soldier. This was a part of the daily dose of plebe knowledge required by my upperclassmen to recite every after mealtime. Reciting plebe knowledge may seem to be an exercise to make a plebe’s life miserable in the mess hall, but this was one way of teaching values and virtues to new cadets through memorization and recitation. They do this repeatedly over a period of one year. As a result, they learned and embraced values like loyalty, patriotism, and loyalty to the constitution. The Code of Conduct of a Filipino Soldier is one those plebe knowledge. The code states that:
- I am a Filipino Soldier. I will support and defend the constitution of the Republic of the Philippines.
- I am a Filipino Soldier. I will fight all forces that would destroy the freedom of the Filipino People.
- I am a Filipino Soldier. I will obey the law, legal orders, and decrees of my lawful superiors at all times.
- I am a Filipino Soldier. I will fight and die in the true Filipino tradition of valor, honor, duty, and loyalty.
- To all these, I pledge my life, my treasure, and my sacred honor.
In my memory as a soldier, this is the only lesson I know about upholding and defending the constitution aside from the oath that I took when I was commissioned as a regular officer of the Amed Forces of the Philippines.
When a soldier joins the armed forces, he takes an oath to uphold and defend our constitution. It is his sworn duty as stated in Article XVI, Section 5, paragraph 1 of the 1987 Constitution which states that “All members of the armed forces shall take an oath or affirmation to uphold and defend this constitution.” However, the constitution did not define as to how he shall do it. Our soldiers have a very simple understanding of how to uphold and defend the constitution. It is simply to defend the country from internal and external armed forces that want to destroy our country. This is based on Article II, Section 3 which states that “Civilian authority is, at all times, supreme over the military. The Armed Forces of the Philippines is the protector of the people and the State. Its goal is to secure the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of the national territory.” The fulfillment of their duty is mainly focused on territorial defensive operations and not protecting the constitution as a system.
The emphasis of the 1987 Consitution on the role of the soldier is the prohibition to participate in any partisan politics. This is reflective of the character of the framers who are anti-Martial Law. Article XVI, Section 5, paragraph 3 states that “Professionalism in the armed forces and adequate remuneration and benefits of its members shall be the prime concern of the State. The armed forces shall be insulated from partisan politics. No member of the military shall engage directly or indirectly in any partisan political activity, except to vote.” It implies that soldier stays neutral. However, the constitution did not qualify for the soldier to stay on the side of the constitution and the state in any partisan political activity or in the event of a political crisis.
Our soldiers lack the capacity to defend the constitution as a system. Except for VIP security and physical security for constitutional bodies, there are no measures, controls and safeguards that a soldier can follow to ensure that the provisions of the constitution are upheld and defended as a system. The 1986 EDSA rebellion is a classic example. The AFP failed on two counts. First, they failed to protect the constitutional bodies, the Office of the President, the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Parliament. Second, they failed to uphold and defend the constitution from being undermined and being replaced. In addition, they failed in securing government facilities as part of their tasks in the 11 General Orders. These failures rendered the constitution ineffective. It led to a crisis, to chaos, and eventually to the collapse of the state rendering the constitution useless. As a result, the nation submitted itself to a revolutionary government that governed by proclamations and later abrogated the 1973 Philippine Constitution.
If our soldiers were prepared to accomplish their constitutional mandate during that time, what could have been their courses of action to address the 1986 EDSA rebellion? If they could have stood by the provisions of the constitution, they could have been guided to help resolve the crisis even when President Marcos vacated his position. They could not have surrendered to the rebel forces. Section 7, Article 7 of the 1973 Constitution stated, “In case of permanent disability, death, removal from office or resignation of the President, the Executive Committee headed by the Prime Minister as hereinafter provided shall exercise the powers of the President until a President shall have been elected and qualified. If the permanent disability, death, removal from office or resignation of the President occurs earlier than eighteen (18) months before the expiration of his term, the Batasang Pambansa shall, within thirty days from the time the vacancy occurs, call a special election to be held not earlier than forty-five days no later than sixty days from the time of such call, to elect a President to serve the unexpired term.”
“In the absence of an Executive Committee, the Speaker shall act as President until the President shall have been elected and qualified.”
In reference to this provision, they could have undertaken the following: First, the AFP should have ensured that the line of succession was upheld. When President Ferdinand decided to leave Malacanan, Prime Minister Cesar Virata could have assumed the role as President and Commander in Chief of the AFP. They could have secured Prime Minister Virata so he can exercise presidential powers to restore order. When Prime Minister Virata did not assume his role after President Marcos departed Malacanan, the AFP could have helped install the Speaker of Batasang Pambansa, Speaker Yñiguez. In the absence of a law similar to the Presidential Succession Act of the US, the Supreme Court should have guided Virata and the Cabinet including the AFP on what to do during the implementation of succession and the transition period. Ensuring the continuity of leadership and government operation are vital to constitutional security and national security.
Second, the AFP could have secured the constitutional bodies (the Office of the President, the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Parliament) including all persons in the line succession as stipulated in the constitution particularly, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Batasang Pambansa. They could have secured all facilities and documents and prevented the offices from being vandalized.
Third, during the crisis, the AFP could have consolidated all its forces behind the constitution although some of its soldiers joined the rebellion. Deputies and Executive officers should have been directed to assume the post of their commanders who deserted. Measures could have been undertaken to prevent further desertions. Orders could have been issued to continue their current missions and maintain peace and order in Metro Manila and all the regions.
General Headquarters could have been transferred to Fort Bonifacio and directed all units and soldiers in Camp Aguinaldo and Camp Crame to vacate and report to Fort Bonifacio. This is to ensure unity and continuity of command and control. When General Fabian Ver joined President Marcos, the next in command should have assumed the position of Chief of Staff pending the appointment of a new Chief of Staff by the Prime Minister.
Fourth, AFP should have helped Prime Minister Virata, who having authority to exercise presidential powers, could have restored order in the bureaucracy to ensure continuity of government operations. He could have dismissed all government officials co-terminus to President Marcos including those who joined the rebellion and could have installed their replacements. He could have appointed a new defense secretary to replace Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, a new Chief of Staff of the AFP to replace General Fabian Ver, and a new Chief of the Philippine Constabulary to replace General Fidel Ramos. As Acting Commander in Chief, Virata could have designated all second in command to take over the posts vacated by all unit commanders.
Fifth, the government under Prime Minister Virata could have served as a transition government until a new President was elected. Virata should have called a special election to fill up the position of the President. Virata could have entered into a negotiation with the leaders of the rebellion and leaders of the political opposition to resolve the crisis. The new government could have undertaken all measures within the bounds of the constitution to pacify the rebellion and accommodate their demands. If there were demands that cannot be accommodated for reasons of unconstitutionality, they could have agreed to amend the constitution after the special election. On the other hand, the AFP could have ensured the orderly process of transition.
These things did not happen in EDSA. It was a total disaster for government institutions. They failed to do their duty to uphold and defend the constitution. The whole government, including the military, surrendered to the rebels. This failure showed the weaknesses in our institutions and in our people to safeguard the constitution. Virata and Yñiguez failed to perform their roles to uphold it. Because of their failure, the rebel forces eventually took power and constituted themselves as a revolutionary government. They ruled through the issuance of proclamations and abrogated the 1973 Constitution. It was later replaced with the 1983 constitution. This was a case of constitutional discontinuity and instability.
As a result of this failure, legal and legislative deadlocks and political instability occurred. Extra-constitutional initiatives for regime change persisted for 30 years up to this date. Every administration that came into power, including the current administration, is challenged by the political opposition.
The AFP was greatly affected. The defender of the constitution became a recruitment ground to defy the constitution. While the AFP was consolidated as the New AFP after EDSA, the AFP was never the same. The AFP became divided between those who supported the rebellion and to those who did not. Even PMA alumni were divided. There were mistrusts among them. The AFP became politicized. The concept of loyalty to constitution became distorted.
Today, the Duterte Administration faces the challenge of regime change by the political opposition through extra-constitutional means. They are the same people who undermined the 1973 Constitution. There are reports of efforts to recruit soldiers to oust President Duterte. The only way to stop this is to help our soldiers understand the importance of the constitution and their role as the defender of the constitution. As President Duterte goes around visiting AFP units, he must educate them and unite them around the constitution. As Commander in Chief, he must build their capacity to defend it as a system.
The shift to federalism and the review of the constitution must be fast-tracked. Once the new system is emplaced and the amended constitution is approved, the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court should help the AFP establish measures, controls, safeguards, and SOP’s for them to follow to protect the amended constitution. Legislative measures can be undertaken if necessary. If in the process, a political crisis or rebellion occurs, the AFP must always be on the side of the present constitution and the state regardless if there will be desertion from its ranks. Its loyalty as an institution must be to the constitution and must stand by all its provisions. Soldiers must ensure that the state and the constitution are protected at all cost.