Aquino gets new charter. A new Philippine constitution has been drafted and sent to Aquino. It calls for a bicameral, US-style government. It also call for a nuclear-weapons-free Philippines -- a policy that could jeopardize US bases there.
Born out of a revolt against Ferdinand Marcos, a new constitution has been crafted for the Philippines to prevent another Marcos-type regime. The final document, presented to President Corazon Aquino today by a commission that she appointed last May, also grants Mrs. Aquino the presidency until 1992. Thus, a plebiscite on the proposed constitution, expected by January, will be seen by many Filipinos as a referendum on Aquino herself -- since an accurate vote count of last February's presidential election remains mired in controversy.
Even after the constitution is approved, which appears likely, Aquino will continue to run a provisional government until the end of June, when a new legislature would begin to do so. This will have given her 14 months with virtual dictatorial powers, although she operates under her self-styled ``freedom constitution.''
The Constitutional Commission chose to return the nation to an American-style bicameral government with a House and Senate legislature, and Cabinet secretaries would replace ministers.
The commission narrowly rejected a parliamentary system similar to one created by a 1973 Constitution passed during martial law under Mr. Marcos. (That Constitution was jettisoned by Aquino after taking power.) And, in compromises reflecting deep divisions in Filipino society, the proposed document sets forth mandates for land reform, the economy, labor, and similar areas which are vague enough for wide interpretation.
The commission called for ``consultations'' when some policies are put in effect. But the 47-member body was concrete in defining the powers of the chief executive. In fact, the document allows the House of Representatives to start impeachment proceedings against a president with only a one-third vote of the House's 250 members. A 1985 impeachment move against Marcos, which failed because of his party's dominance in the legislature, served as a lesson for the commission. The provision, some analysts say, could destabilize future governments by allowing a minority to impeach. But the actual conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which consists of 24 members elected nationwide.
The president's ability to declare martial law would be checked by a measure granting both Congress and the Supreme Court the right to disapprove the action. Marcos's martial law lasted from 1972 to 1981, although many of its provisions were kept intact until his departure last Feb. 25.
In addition, rules for arrest and detention are restricted, a strong human rights commission is established, private armies are banned, and the court system is given protection from executive meddling.
A unique provision guarantees 10 percent of the House seats to members from such groups as urban poor, women, youth, and peasants. Other such measures are designed to prevent the two-party ``elite'' democracy that prevailed before Marcos. The measure which would remove political parties from electoral boards is expected to influence how elections are run.
Elections themselves will be difficult, because voters will be asked to write down the names of their choices for as many as 44 candidates ranging from president to city council. The proposed constitution clumps most elections together, with the first slated for May 11. After that vote, the Philippines will go five years until the next national elections in 1992.
``If either the leftists or old Marcos loyalists control the legislature, Aquino will have a tough time getting laws passed,'' says one Western diplomat. ``And she will also have problems because she is a lame-duck President.'' The last and only lame-duck president in the Philippines was Marcos during his second term in office, in which he declared martial law.
Also cutting away at traditional political structures is language granting more national revenues, taxing ability, and police authority to mayors and governors. And in a nod to tribal groups in the Cordillera Mountains and to minority Muslims, the commission gave autonomy to those two groups, even allowing their own family and property laws.
In foreign policy, the commission may have helped improve relations with neighboring Malaysia by dropping language from the 1973 Constitution that implied a legal right to the Malaysian state of Sabah.
And the commission watered down earlier proposals to ban US military bases, ending up with a policy to make the Philippines free of nuclear weapons, but only at the discretion of the president. [See story below.]
In a largely Roman Catholic country, the proposed constitution reflects little church influence. As with previous constitutions, separation of church and state is ``inviolable.'' But religious teaching is allowed with parents' permission, and government aid to students (not private schools) is permitted. And to prevent legal abortion, the document defines life as beginning at conception.