As we begin in our deep-dive and reimagining of the Constitution, it is best that we begin right at the beginning, that is the Preamble.
But firstly, what is a preamble? Simply, it is the introductory text to a statue which explains what the statute is about. It’s similar to the function of the preface that you see in a book, only that this is for legal documents, like a constitution in this case.
Which brings us to the next question: is a preamble necessary in a constitution? The answer is actually no. In fact, there are a number of constitutions across the world that do not have any preamble and it did not in a way affect the effectivity of those constitutions.
But having gone through a number of constitutions, I can actually see the benefit of a preamble in a constitution. While constitutions, in general, tend to be legal in nature, the preamble serves to provide a somewhat “personal” element to a document as sacred as this one. It encapsulates the collective mindset and sentiment of a people who have written and adopted the constitution and lets us understand their story and their aims in drafting that constitution.
Thus, it is important that the Preamble must not only be easily understood. It should also be able to inspire and make the reader appreciate the constitution as this important element in a country’s identity.
The present Preamble up close
Now that we understand the purpose of a preamble, let’s take a look at the Preamble of our current 1987 Constitution.
“We, the sovereign Filipino people, imploring the aid of Almighty God, in order to build a just and humane society and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and aspirations, promote the common good, conserve and develop our patrimony, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace, do ordain and promulgate this Constitution.“
As some may find the whole sentence too unwieldy, I have “translated” this preamble into a less legalistic language:
“We have written this constitution in order to:
- build a just and humane society
- establish a government that embodies our ideals and aspirations
- promote the common good
- conserve and develop our patrimony
- secure the blessings of independence and democracy, blah, blah blah”
With a bit more insight we now have on the present preamble, we have to ask ourselves: does this preamble sufficiently address the question why the present Constitution was written the way it was? Are there issues or realities that may have been overlooked that this preamble failed to address? Does it adequately relfect the sentiments and hopes of the people?
Overwritten some, overlooked others
Speaking as a writer and editor, one thing that bothered me with this preamble is that it has too much fluff, some of them venturing into redundancy. For instance, isn’t “just and humane society” a blessing of democracy anyway?
But I think the worse offense this preamble that commit is its incompleteness. It talks a lot, maybe too much as might be argued by others, about establishing a free and democratic government, no doubt a result of the experience during the previous administration of Ferdinand Marcos and his martial law legacy but in the process, it ignores other aspects. If you ask me, one of those aspects is the need for the government that respects and encourages the country’s diverse culture while fomenting unity.
Another aspect that should be reflected is related to the tendency of many Filipinos to treat the constitution as some sacred document that is timeless and should not be changed. It is not and should not be treated as such. That being said, the preamble should also serve as a reminder that the constitution should reflect the changing needs of the country and its people at all times and should not be rendered as stagnant and outdated (or “expired” as some have recently been saying) at any given point time especially given the fast-changing and uncertain times we are experiencing today.
Then there’s also the discussions elsewhere such as the use of “Almighty God” instead of “Divine Providence” which some argue evokes a more merciful God than the former, and the inclusion of “love” which some deem unnecessary. For some, these are all trivial concerns and doesn’t address the problem of the Preamble itself. For others, some see it as contrary to the principle of the separation of church and state that the constitution itself advocates.
As a result of all these problems, what we have is a preamble that sounds “hollow.” It reads and feels so uninspired and stuffed with too much legalistic fluff that would turn off a layman from being enticed at least to read this document.
Preambles of other constitutions
While not all constitutions have preambles, those that do tend to be more encompassing, thus more lengthy than the Philippine one. The Preamble of China’s constitution, for instance, is one very long overview of its history and policies. Cuba’s is very encompassing with the ideals expressed there. Japan’s, while shorter than the two, manages to convey the emotion of a people who no longer desired for war.
Then there’s the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States which is probably one of the shortest preambles out there. It is direct to the point and says what it needs to say though it does not manage to stir emotions as other preambles tend to do. And when you read, you can see where the Preamble of the Philippine Constitution got its inspiration from, although the Philippine one added more words, some which are actually redundant as pointed out earlier.
A reimagined Preamble
In reimagining the constitution, what would our Preamble look like? Would there even be a Preamble in the first place? To address the second question, while a Preamble is actually not necessary in a constitution, given how expressive and emotion-driven Filipinos tend to be, a Preamble may be included if only to make Filipinos appreciate the constitution better.
That being said, it is important that the Preamble should reflect the diverse nature and history of the country and its people and how this has been either ignored or overlooked over the years. It must also fully express the ideals and sentiments of the people so that a better constitution can be drawn from them. It must also make a point right at the start the evolving nature of the constitution, that it should never be stagnant or left behind by the times and should be Lastly, it must be inspirational in a way that will make people learn more about the constitution, and ultimately be proud of it.
Knowing all these problems and what we would want to see in a preamble, what here is our proposal for a reimagined Preamble of our Konstitusyon:
We the people of the Philippines, a people diverse in character and history, have united ourselves in order to create a sovereign and robust State that shall always be attuned to the changing times and the changing needs of the people; build a society founded on peace, order, liberty, justice, and democracy; correct the iniquities committed against our brethren and this land; and establish a Government that shall embody our ideals and promote our welfare.
As a united people, we have chosen to adopt this Constitution to signify our commitment to fulfill and ensure these common goals, for the benefit of our country and of our people, today and in the future.
Our preamble right at the beginning acknowledges the diversity of the Filipino people but have nevertheless come together not only to create a sovereign state, form a society founded on peace, order, liberty, justice, and democracy and establish a government that embodies the ideals of the Filipino people and promote their welfare, ideas that have been established already in the present preamble.
Our Konstitusyon preamble goes beyond that as we aim to articulate the overlooked sentiments that were discussed previously. We decided to add 3 more ideas:
- create not just a sovereign state but a robust one
- ensure that the state, through the Konstitusyon, “shall always be attuned to the changing times and the changing needs of the people“
- express a need to right the wrongs committed in the past (“correct the iniquities committed against our brethren and this land“)
The first two have been pointed out earlier so what about that third idea? This is part of acknowledging our history which, admittedly, has long been either ignorant or repulsive towards the idea of a multicultural Philippines beyond just lip service or pageantry. It’s not much, but this little might help people realize how much we have taken the ideal of a multicultural Philippines for granted and that it is time to change that.
Our preamble goes to articulate better the reasons of adopting the Konstitusyon and make it more encompassing and inspiring such that it would stand the test of time. It goes back to what I was saying about a constitution being attuned to the changing times and needs of the people. It also reinforces the constitution as this symbolic tool that would enable its people to fully establish their beliefs and ideas and realize their hopes and dreams for their country and they would stick to and live by them.
Originally, this preamble made a reference to the Divine Providence rather than the Almighty God in the present preamble to reestablish the notion of a merciful divine being. But having been convinced that it also betrays the secular nature of government and a personal belief of “giving to Caesar what is due to Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, this has been ultimately been deleted.
As a result, the Konstitusyon’s Preamble is two sentences instead of one in the present Preamble and has more words, but we believe it better articulates the ideas and sentiments of the Filipino people, even the understated ones, and that it better establishes the nature of a constitution as an important but evolving document that shall and must address the changes of the times.
While this proposal of ours is not something we expect to be adopted wholesale, we believe that it should serve as an example as to how we should rewrite the Preamble, which in turn can inspire people and help them better appreciate what a good Konstitusyon should be.
And whether this Preamble gets to be included or not, let the ideas and sentiments established here serve as an inspiration as what a good constitution should be.