ON THE ALLEGED “PEOPLE’S INITIATIVE” TO CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION
“The Church … must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice.” (Deus Caritas Est, 28) This challenging call of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, impels us to express to you, our beloved People of God, our deep concern over the attempt of certain sectors to make hasty and substantial changes to our Constitution, supposedly through the “People’s Initiative” provision in our present charter. We speak to you, not as lawyers or politicians, but as Shepherds, applying principles of our Catholic Social Teaching to our present situation, and inviting you to discern, decide and act in the light of the Gospel.
We recognize and respect those many concerned and thoughtful Filipinos who see constitutional reform as a necessary remedy to the country’s many problems at present. In our pastoral statement of January 2006, we already stated that “we agree that certain aspects of our Constitutions may need amendments and revisions.” What we wish to challenge and express unease about is the process by which these changes are being brought about.
2. Concerns about the present campaign
First, we believe that “changing the Constitution involving major shifts in the form of government, requires widespread participation, total transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate.” (CBCP Statement, 2006) The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that “the shared participation of citizens in the destiny of their communities calls for work for information and education.” (No. 191) The provision for a “People’s Initiative” in the present Constitution was precisely an attempt to allow our people this participation.
We view with alarm, however, the present signature campaign endorsed by the government. Signatures are apparently collected without adequate information, discussion and education. The manner in which these signatures are supposedly collected, including door to door campaigns, are not conducive to the kind of informed participation that such fundamental changes demand. The changes that are being proposed for signatures of citizens are dangerously unclear and open to manipulation by groups with self-serving interests. The complexities and variations of the parliamentary system are not adequately explained and have not been sufficiently discussed by our people.
Second, we believe that “the reasons for constitutional change must be based on the common good rather than on self-serving interests or the interests of political dynasties.” (CBCP Statement, 2006) The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches that: “An authentic democracy is … the fruit of … a commitment to the common good as the purpose and guiding criterion for political life.” (No. 407)
In other words, charter change can only be morally justifiable if the revisions being proposed will lead to authentic reforms and development for the nation. Changes must assure shifts towards: principled politics, transparency and accountability, electoral and institutional reform, and more efficient delivery of services to the people, especially the poorest.
However, no such provisions have been clearly specified in the present signature campaign. What form of parliamentary system, how such a parliamentary system will truly serve the common good and the interests of the nation, especially the poor, have not been articulated. Instead, people are given general and sweeping promises of political stability and reform that will allegedly automatically come with a new political system.
This lack of clarity on how the changes will truly benefit our nation raises disturbing questions about who will truly benefit from these changes. It seems that the changes as they are being proposed now will benefit mainly those who already hold positions of power and privilege in the current political system. This raises questions as to the authenticity of this signature campaign and the motives of those who promote it. Is this truly a “people’s initiative” or the initiative of self-seeking political players wanting to entrench themselves in power? We might further ask the question of the source of funding for this entire operation.
A call to discernment and action. In the light of the difficulties connected with the present efforts to change the Constitution, we, your Pastors, invite the People of God to take up once again the responsibilities of good citizens, who love this country and seek its true good. We remind you of the words of our Holy Father: “The direct duty for a just ordering of society … is proper to the lay faithful. As citizens of the state, they are called to take part in public life in a personal capacity. They cannot relinquish their participation … to promote … the common good.” (Deus Caritas Est. 29)
We invite you then to reflect and pray over what we have presented in this statement. If, before God speaking in your conscience, you agree, we call upon you to discern the appropriate actions. As Christians, we cannot be complacent and inactive in the face of this present issue of charter change, which is so crucial to the future of our country and people. Vigilance, education, principled opposition may be necessary steps to take.
As Holy Week draws near, we pray that the self-sacrificing love of Christ, that alone brings life to the world, may fill the hearts of all Filipinos and bring about the new life we all desire for our nation.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
(SGD)+ ANGEL N. LAGDAMEO
Archbishop of Jaro &
April 7, 2006