charter change

‘Perfect gift’ for Marcos? Group claims Cha-Cha plebiscite eyed before July SONA

Dwight de Leon

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‘Perfect gift’ for Marcos? Group claims Cha-Cha plebiscite eyed before July SONA

LOWER HOUSE. The House of Representatives opens its second regular session on Monday morning, July 24, 2023.

Dwight de Leon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) A party-list group from the opposition alleges a nationwide plebiscite in June in relation to charter change. A lawmaker allied with the majority also hints at a mid-year vote on the issue.

In perhaps the most ambitious charter change project in years, the House leadership appears to be pushing to make official proposed amendments to the Constitution before President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.

A timetable leaked by Kabataan Partylist claimed that the lower chamber is eyeing to have the charter change-related plebiscite by June 17.

This timetable was confirmed by Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda in a news briefing on January 18. He said this was what he learned directly from the Cha-Cha proponents at the House.

Reporters have sought confirmation from the offices of House Speaker Martin Romualdez and House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe, as well as House Secretary General Reginald Velasco, but all of them have yet to respond. We will update this story with their statements once they do.

Before Kabataan released the timetable, Surigao del Sur 2nd District Representative Johnny Pimentel, in a separate phone call with Rappler, previously hinted at a potential mid-year plebiscite to ratify changes in the 1987 Constitution.

“Remember that it’s already the [candidacy filing for the 2025 elections] in October, so if we cannot have the plebiscite by July, then this charter change push would be over,” said Pimentel, who was PDP-Laban’s representative to party leaders’ meetings with Romualdez until he resigned in November to join the National Unity Party, the second biggest delegation in Congress.

Kabataan expressed concern that charter change proponents would take advantage of the fact that both the Senate and the House are in joint session during the SONA to kickstart the constituent assembly.

“This is a perfect gift not only for Marcos Jr., but also for his foreign patrons from the US and other monopoly capitalists eager to capture our economy and markets through a reversal of nationalist constitutional provisions on patrimony,” Kabataan said.

Even though the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has only two scheduled plebiscites so far this year, less than the six plebiscites in 2023, Congress raised the poll body’s budget for the conduct of such electoral exercises from P2 billion to P14 billion.

The House is pursuing a people’s initiative route to jumpstart a charter change initiative.

Under this method, 3% of voters in every legislative district of the Philippines, and 12% of the national voting population, must sign a petition in favor of an amendment in the 1987 Constitution.

The petitions circulating nationwide seek to amend the Constitution to allow the House and the Senate to vote as one when a motion to form a constituent assembly is called. In that scenario, the House can force the Senate’s hand, as the 24-member Senate is essentially outnumbered by the 300-plus-member House.

Signature campaigns are already underway in numerous provinces, with Pimentel and Palawan 3rd District Representative Jose Alvarez previously confirming to Rappler that advocates in their districts are eyeing to submit to the Comelec the petition with signatures from January 13 to 16.

The timetable leaked by Kabataan on Friday also listed January 15 as the deadline for the filing of the signatures.

These signature campaigns are already marred with controversy, after Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman alleged that voters in his province were being bribed in exchange for their signatures. Ako Bicol Representative Jil Bongalon and Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda had dismissed these claims.

Charter change proponents have insisted that there is a need to amend or revise the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution to make the Philippines friendlier to foreign investors.

The country’s most esteemed economists are divided on the issue. Supporters say new laws are not enough to offset the restrictive economic aspects of the charter, while opponents argue that amending the Constitution is not necessary to attract foreign direct investments.

Some critics also fear that a constituent assembly would pave the way not just for economic amendments, but also changes in the terms of government officials, allowing their longer stay in office. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.