This is the full speech of Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei Nograles during the celebration of the 32nd anniversary of the Philippine Constitution at the Manila Hotel on Saturday, February 2.
At the outset I would like to greet everyone a good morning and express my gratitude for inviting me to speak before you today, the 32nd anniversary of the ratification of our Constitution.
The significance of this day is not lost on the students and practitioners of the law. After all, the very first thing we learn when we step into law school is the Constitution. Consti, as we all know firsthand, is a freshman law subject––and with good reason. As the fundamental law of the land and as the foundation of the Rule of Law, it makes little sense to learn about the different facets of the law if you are unfamiliar with the basic principles on which all our laws are founded.
That our profession––our calling––should require us to know the Constitution from cover to cover goes without saying. In January 1988, however, President Corazon C. Aquino recognized that knowledge, awareness, and appreciation of the Constitution should not be limited to members of the legal profession, but to every citizen whose rights are spelled out in that sacred legal document.
So on January 29, 1988, a few days before the first anniversary of the ratification of our Constitution, President Aquino issued Proclamation 211, s. 1988 “in order to instill in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people the democratic principles and the noble and lofty ideals enshrined in the Constitution… to give the Filipino people the opportunity to consecrate and dedicate themselves to the Constitution and ponder on the significance thereof.”
The intent of this issuance, three decades after it was issued, is clear as day. It should, ideally, help impress upon our people that our Constitution, as the fundamental law of the land, “envisions a just and humane society and a government that embodies the ideals and aspirations of the Filipino people, promotes the common good, and secures to themselves and their posterity the blessings of independence and democracy under the rule of law and a regime of truth, justice, freedom, love, equality, and peace.”
It is unfortunate, therefore, that 32 years after our Constitution was ratified, and 31 years after this proclamation was issued, there is still work to be done insofar as giving our citizens a basic understanding and appreciation of the Constitution. In a survey conducted in June last year, 74% or close to three-fourths of those polled admitted that they had little to no knowledge about the Constitution. In the same poll, only 21%, or one-fifth, said they had sufficient knowledge of the Constitution, while a minuscule 5% said they had a great deal of knowledge about our Charter.
These numbers should give us pause. As Fr. Joaquin Bernas––one of my favorite law professors in Ateneo––said: “The Filipino people are gifted with a living Constitution. We, the Filipino people can only make our Constitution a living constitution if we live it and live by it.” It is a given that you cannot live by what you do not know, or do not understand. We cannot and should not expect our citizens to have a healthy respect for the Rule of Law if they are oblivious to its basic precepts.
While some may say ignorance is bliss, this cannot apply where our Constitution is concerned. As the first Filipino lady justice, the late, great Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma reminded us in 2005, “it is important that we, the people know what the Constitution stands for, in order that we will knowingly be on guard and defend it against forces that would subvert the intent and spirit of the Charter, even if clothed allegedly for the national interest.”
Justice Muñoz Palma likewise reiterates that it “is a fundamental principle that sovereignty resides with the people and all government authority emanates from them. However, it is an equally fundamental principle that when the people have decided to be governed under a written constitution, they are bound to respect and obey that fundamental charter under the Rule of Law.”
Again, we cannot and should not expect our people to respect and obey what they do not comprehend.
That being said, this is where organizations like the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution come in. As the years pass and the events leading to the ratification of our Constitution disappear from our rearview mirror, the challenge is for your organization and its members to ensure that passing of time does not erode the significance of our Constitution. As your numbers increase, so should the efforts to educate and enlighten our people about the fundamental law which we have all sworn to uphold.
As one of the starting points, and in line with your theme, “The Incessant and Relentless Battles to Win Against Graft and Corruption,” we can perhaps begin by educating the public about the constitutional underpinnings of the government’s war against corruption. Now would be as good a time as any to remind our people that in the Declaration of Principles and State Policies or our the Constitution, Sec. 27 says that “The State shall maintain honesty and integrity in the public service and take positive and effective measures against graft and corruption. “
It would also be helpful to remind our citizens that our President is required by the Constitution to be faithful to its provisions, as clearly enunciated in the President’s Oath of Office, which reads: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully and conscientiously fulfill my duties as President of the Philippines, preserve and defend its Constitution, execute its laws, do justice to every man, and consecrate myself to the service of the Nation. So help me God.”
Preserve. Defend. Execute. This is the mandate of the President, and this is the rationale behind President Rodrigo Duterte’s unceasing attack on the corrupt in the ranks of our government. As the President has repeatedly shown, he has zero tolerance for graft in his Administration, and he has not hesitated to publicly chastise and immediately relieve those who betray their oaths to serve our people faithfully and with integrity.
This has been on full display the past few days as he has called attention to delays in the processing of land conversion cases in the Department of Agrarian Reform, and why he has given the Cabinet marching orders to address these and other related issues so that the systemic loopholes that slow down government procedures are not exploited by unscrupulous individuals to extort from the people they are supposed to serve.
We should expect these attacks on the corrupt to continue unabated. Dalawa ang ipinangako ni Presidente nung tumakbo sya: tapang at malasakit. Genuine concern for our people’s welfare and the courage to do what must be done in the defense of their interests.
I am hopeful that in this battle for Rule of Law and the war against those that defy it, the President can rely on the Vanguard of the Philippine Constitution to fight by his side.
Maraming salamat po, at mabuhay po kayong lahat! –