The special 34-man body met. Erning Amatong asked me to sit beside him because anyway, many of our ideas coincide. He was sweet.
But Fidel Purisima sat beside us, too. The harmony was broken. He told me that there are 15 members from the Steering Council, 15 from the Sponsorship Council and 4 from the panel of floor leaders in this Committee.
During the discussions, I introduced an amendment in the article on Civil Rights to abolish the death penalty. Bert Misa opposed it. Roger Panotes has a similar resolution. Cefi Padua wanted to support us halfway by saying that the death penalty shall not be imposed unless otherwise provided by law.
Naturally, we were defeated. The idea of introducing humaneness into our legal system could not be understood by the delegates.
In the course of the ages, man has done away with some of his brutality, I said in my speech. In the past, we hanged criminals and burned witches at the stake. But now we have grown more civilized. We understand the sacredness of human life. Besides, we say the modern penal system is based primarily on the reform of erring individuals and the protection of society. It is no longer primarily aimed at punishing or destroying criminals. And besides, did not Apostle Paul write, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord”?
I added that Albert Pierrepoint, Britain’s best-known hangman who had dispatched 400 people in his career, remarked after his last execution: “The death penalty never once acted as a deterrent.”
We lost miserably, in spite of my oratory.
Dr. Aruego wanted an amendment by deletion to omit the provision on habeas corpus because he says the same matter is mentioned among the powers of the prime minister. By mentioning this in the Bill of Rights, this would leave open the possibility of interpreting this as allowing other agencies to suspend, likewise, the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
I do not agree with him. The Bill of Rights is an enumeration of the individual’s rights against the government as an institution and against all majorities and officials—in fact, against society. Nevertheless, Cefi Padua seemed to have been swayed by Aruego. Of course, they lost miserably too, even as I have often lost miserably.
Vic de la Serna filed some good amendments. One of them has to do with providing periods for the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Naturally, they were quickly voted down without any discussion simply because he was not there. And, the way things were running, these would have been quickly shot even if he were around.
There is a provision that free access to courts shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty. This was amended initially so as to read, “Free access to courts and other government agencies shall not be denied to any person by reason of poverty.”
This was readily accepted. And it is a good amendment. I noticed, though, that the decision to accept or not to accept seemed to be coming merely from Tony de Guzman, who was presiding, in representation of the Steering Council.
Then I introduced an amendment to add: “The State shall provide free and adequate legal assistance in all cases when, by reason of indigence, they are unable to defend themselves or enforce their rights.” Actually, this came from the original civil rights report.
In my explanation, I said that most of us, during the election campaign, had felt that the lack of legal assistance was one of the major grievances of the citizenry. There is inequality in the administration of justice. There is need for the poor to be given equal rights with the affluent.
“We were not insensitive to this,” Tony de Guzman interrupted. He brushed aside my explanation.
“I only wish to strengthen the sensitivity of our delegates,” I responded lamely.
Serging Tocao stood up abruptly. He was enraged. “I do not understand why we are discussing this. This is not a right. We are supposed to be talking about rights. This is an obligation.”
I immediately rejoined: “A right does not exist in a vacuum. There are no rights without correlative obligations.”
Peps Bengzon intervened, saying this was not necessary. This was a matter for legislation.
Roding Ortiz also opposed—but on legal grounds. He said that this was already provided for in the Ombudsman article.
We lost in the voting. But even Ikeng Corpuz, who was presiding together with Tony de Guzman, voted in favor of my amendment.
There was some measure of success, however, because I garnered some seven, eight or nine votes, which is big enough by my present standards. These days I am modest in my ambitions. As one of the “vanquished” in the Convention, I have been so used now to getting only two, three or four votes in the Committee. Today, there seemed to be a sizeable number of people who agreed with me. Nevertheless, I lost.
But I shall not be deterred. I shall appeal in plenary.
Finally, as I was leaving, I heard Ikeng Corpuz say that we are now taking up the amendment on social and economic rights. I heard him announce that the authors are Teroy Laurel, Noli Santos, Caesar Espiritu and others. He said that Laurel and Santos were not there so he asked me if I would like to sponsor the amendment.
This was what differentiated prewar Constitutions from the modern Constitutions of democratic nations, I said. The ideas of social progress and of social and economic rights find emphasis in postwar democratic Constitutions. In fact the UN documents to operationalize the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are two—the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. There are also the ILO Conventions.
Peps Bengzon intervened: These ideas are spread in the different provisions in the new Constitution. My response was that they are so scattered as to be ineffective.
A call for a vote was made. I lost miserably.