Who is, and isn't, drafting Philippine constitution

Five former followers of Ferdinand Marcos sat down with representatives of Corazon Aquino yesterday to begin the task of writing a new constitution for the Philippines. President Aquino, who completes her first 100 days in office. June 4, wants the 49-member constitutional commission to produce a document in a swift three months, so she can restore democracy and provide more legitimacy to her ``provisional'' government.

``I'm all for speeding up the commission,'' said the Rev. Joaquin Bernas, president of the Roman Catholic Ateneo University, an Aquino adviser, and a member of the constitutional panel. Mrs. Aquino plans to call a referendum on the group's proposed constitution, perhaps by November, and then hold local and legislative elections by March 25.

Last Sunday, during a celebration of the February ``revolution,'' Aquino named her 44 appointments to the constitutional commission and invited the opposition to provide 5 members. Former Marcos Labor Minister Blas Ople -- who has formed his own political party out of the remains of Marcos's New Society Movement (KBL) -- quickly took her up on the offer, nominating himself and three others of his new Nationalist Party -- plus one KBL member. The commission met informally yesterday, preparing itself for the formal opening June 2.

Aquino's appointments include one general, two Muslim leaders, three Catholic leaders, one film director, two former judges, a student leader, a labor leader, a peasant leader, an anthropologist, and a journalist. At least 25 are lawyers, and 6 are women.

But what captured interest here is who was not chosen -- or who chose not to be chosen. No leftist labor leaders or former communist leaders were included. Arturo Tolentino, Marcos's running mate in the February election and a prominent constitutionalist, withdrew his name, saying the commission should have been elected. A prominent Marcos foe, ex-Senator Lorenzo Tanada, bowed out, saying he was too old. Some, such as former Sen. Raul Manglapus, are absent from the panel because of Aquino's insistence that no member can run for government office within a year after the constitution is set.

The commission's work will open a Pandora's box of issues for Filipinos, such as land reform, the future of the US military bases, federal vs. provincial authority, a territorial dispute with Malaysia, autonomy for Muslim-populated Mindanao, and the role of multinational companies. Aquino's close ties with Catholic leaders has also raised the possibility of a strong provision on state-church separation. Government structure, however, will take the limelight, with Aquino favoring an American-style presidential system with a two-house legislature.

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