With so much discussions as of late in relation to human rights, there is an interest among some people to revisit the Bill of Rights found in the present constitution. That is a good thing.
For one, the Bill of Rights is one of the most essential and important elements that a constitution should have because it defines the rights of every person so they can live freely and securely and guarantees their protection against those who try to take away their freedoms and security without due process.
And in the case of the Bill of Rights in our constitution, it is built on a good foundation, unlike the provisions on citizenship as well as economic inclusivity, and form of government to name a few, all of which will be tackled later on. It is perhaps this reason that many of the present draft constitutions out there choose to leave it mostly as is.
However, that is not to say our Bill of Rights is, at the very least, as finely crafted as is claimed by some. Because while the foundation of our Bill of Rights is solid, the way it is written does not really evoke the same positive appreciation.
The problem of language
One of the most glaring issues with the Bill of Rights in our current constitution is how much of it is written in overbearing, sometimes flowery, legal language that non-lawyers (which comprise the majority of the Filipinos) will not appreciate. One example of this can be found in its Section 22:
SECTION 22. No ex post facto law or bill of attainder shall be enacted.
If you are not a lawyer, you won’t know at first what “ex post facto law” or “bill of attainder” is in the first place. As I have stressed before, the constitution is something that should be easily understood by the common people, especially at first glance.
But perhaps the main issue with our Bill of Rights is the way it was written. To explain what I mean about this, let me refer you first to Section 1, which reads:
SECTION 1. No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.
Aside from the fact that this section commits the sin of having more than one thought in a single sentence, the way this particular section is written bothers me that it seems to highlight more the negative notion of the possibility of having one’s rights violated rather than instilling the idea of the right to life, liberty, and property itself.
Compare this to how such rights were expressed in the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” of the United Nations:
ARTICLE 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.Universal Declaration of Human Rights
As you can see, the UN example reinforces the right of life and liberty and does not dwell on the threat of violation of those rights. And it instantly gives the reader the appreciation of this idea. Contrast this to how the Bill of Rights in our constitution is written which, unwittingly, strikes fear rather than an appreciation of human rights which should be the case.
That right there is one key reason why there is such little appreciation of human rights among some Filipinos. The idea is there but it is written the wrong way.
Copied without context
It has been said that the Bill of Rights of the present constitution was drawn heavily from the United States Constitution. While there is nothing wrong with such a practice per se, considering there are some good things in the US constitution, the problem lies when you draw content in which its context does not apply to our setting.
Take for instance this particular provision in our Bill of Rights:
SECTION 20. No person shall be imprisoned for debt or non-payment of a poll tax.
Infoplease defines poll tax as “a capital tax levied on each adult in a community” which was practiced in some countries like the United Kingdom and the United States, in which the latter was used as a form of discrimination to discourage minorities to vote. However, the Philippines never imposed poll tax in its history, not even during the Spanish and American colonial periods. So it’s puzzling why such a provision exists in our Bill of Rights in the first place. Besides, the other provisions already take care of the protections against discrimination anyway.
Reimagining the Bill of Rights
Taking note of all these issues with the current Bill of Rights, the Konstitusyon Project decided to rewrite this particular section from the ground up, utilizing the principles of having a simple, easy to understand language; taking into account our country’s own historical context in relation to human rights, and, most importantly, crafting them in a manner that puts human rights front and center. Nothing more, nothing less.
So looking at the problematic Section 1, the Konstitusyon draft rewrote it into:
Every person has the right to life, liberty, and property.
Section 22 is rewritten as:
No person shall be tried for a criminal offense that was defined by law after said act was committed.
(Yes, that’s what the post ex facto law is)
As for section 20 in the present constitution, it has been deleted in the Konstitusyon draft.
You can read the revamped Bill of Rights in the Konstitusyon draft which can access right here.
The Bill of Rights is an important part of a constitution. But if it is not written in a way that will be understood and appreciated by the general population, in a way, it is a human right violation in itself.