Senate of the Philippines

Senate unanimously rejects House push for charter change via people’s initiative

Bonz Magsambol

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Senate unanimously rejects House push for charter change via people’s initiative

MANIFESTO. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on January 23, 2024, reads a manifesto against the proposed people’s initiative to amend the Constitution, signed by all 24 senators.

Angie de Silva/Rappler

'This singular and seemingly innocuous change in the Constitution will open the floodgates to a wave of amendments and revisions that will erode the nation as we know it,' says Senate President Migz Zubiri

MANILA, Philippines – In a strongly-worded manifesto signed by all 24 senators, the Senate rejected the House of Representatives’ bid for charter change through a people’s initiative, amid allegations of bribery in securing signatures for the campaign.

Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri read the manifesto during the upper chamber’s regular session on Tuesday, January 23. It was a product of the Senate’s almost three-hour executive session on Monday, January 22.

“While it seems simple, the goal is apparent to make it easier to revise the Constitution by eliminating the Senate from the equation. It is an obvious prelude to further amendments, revisions, or even an overhaul of our entire Constitution,” Zubiri said.

Zubiri shared concerns that once constitutional amendments would go beyond the economic provisions of the Constitution, and will include lifting term limits that would allow politicians to stay longer in power. 

“This singular and seemingly innocuous change in the Constitution will open the floodgates to a wave of amendments and revisions that will erode the nation as we know it,” Zubiri said.

The Senate President also slammed the House push to amend the Constitution through a constitutional Assembly. Under that mode, the Senate and House of Representatives will convene into a constituent assembly and will not vote separately, diluting the voice of the senators.

“If this PI prospers, further changes to the Constitution can be done with or without the Senate’s approval, or worse, even absent all the senators. Should Congress vote jointly in a constituent assembly, the Senate and its 24 members cannot cast any meaningful vote against the 316 members of the House of Representatives,” Zubiri said.

“It is ridiculous that the Senate, a co-equal chamber of the House, which is needed to pass even local bills, will have a dispensable and diluted role in charter change the most monumental act of policymaking concerning the highest law in the land,” he added.

Zubiri feared that if Cha-Cha through people’s initiative pushes through, it will “destabilize the principle of bicameralism and our system of checks and balances.”

“With the change, the Senate is left powerless to stop even the most radical proposals: We cannot protect our lands from foreign ownership; We cannot stop the removal of term limits or a no election scenario in 2025, or worse, in 2028,” he said.

House members have always been eager to amend the charter. All previous attempts fizzled out as their Senate counterparts were not too keen on amending the Constitution, especially through a constituent assembly.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva on Tuesday called on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to “invalidate” all the signatures on the people’s initiative that it had received from all over the country.

“We join the call of the President to invalidate and iparamdam sa taumbayan na hindi dapat kayo niloloko dahil gusto ‘nyo lamang makatikim ng programa ng gobyerno (make people feel that they shouldn’t be fooled because they only want to experience programs of the government),” Villanueva said.

Vice President Sara Duterte is against the House’s charter change bid. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. had brushed aside allegations of bribery in exchange for signatures but said it would be up to the Comelec to validate the signatures it had received.

In early January, signature documents began circulating nationwide, seeking 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.

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.

As of Tuesday, the Comelec has received signature documents from some 900 out of over 1,600 cities and municipalities across the country. – With reports from Dwight de Leon/Rappler.com

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Thank you, Senator Zubiri, for your concern: if Cha-Cha, through people’s initiative, pushes through, it will “destabilize the principle of bicameralism and our system of checks and balances.” In particular: “With the change, the Senate is left powerless to stop even the most radical proposals: We cannot protect our lands from foreign ownership; We cannot stop the removal of term limits or a no election scenario in 2025, or worse, in 2028.” I hope that this is not For Show Only (FSO).

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Bonz Magsambol

Bonz Magsambol covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler.