charter change

[OPINION] Prancing to the Cha-Cha beat

Niel Anthony Borja

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[OPINION] Prancing to the Cha-Cha beat

Guia Abogado/Rappler

'Why do we need to change the Constitution? Is the Constitution the be-all and end-all of problems plaguing the country?'

As Filipinos become strongly divided over the results of the previous elections, the country continues to receive staggering death blows caused by rising inflation, the surging food crisis, and other economic maldevelopments. Instead of resolving these perennial issues, our leaders have chosen to tilt their heads to focus on “more important” matters, such as amending the 1987 Constitution (also known as “Charter-Change” or “Cha-Cha”).  

Is changing the Constitution really that important in the first place? Are the people even aware of what Cha-Cha is and what it brings forth? 

In 2018, Pulse Asia revealed that 64% of Filipinos were not in favor of changing the Constitution. 32% of them were open to it sometime in the future, but the other 32% did not want it anytime soon. Meanwhile, 3 out of 4 Filipinos have little to no idea what our Constitution is or what it consists of. 

In 2022, Pulse Asia released another survey showing that Cha-Cha was not among the “most urgent national concerns” of many Filipinos.  

With these numbers, it is uncertain whether a Constitutional amendment should even be in the works, considering that efforts to change the Charter require consultations with a well-informed electorate. 

Thus, at this point, it is perhaps apt to discuss what amendments and revisions are, how they are conducted, and how they develop through the years. 

Constitutional amendment and revision

Although amendment and revision entail significant changes in the text of the Constitution, they differ on the effects and extent of these changes. Amendment contemplates changing one or a few portions of the constitutional text. An example would be improving the qualifications of senatorial candidates by adding an educational requirement. Revision, on the other hand, requires an alteration of a specific concept, principle, or structure that affects the other provisions of the Constitution. An illustration would be shifting the present structure of government to a federal one. 

How are the processes of amendment and revision conducted?

Amending or revising the Constitution requires a proposal at the outset. The proposal must show what changes will be made in the Constitution. Afterwards, it will be submitted to the people for approval through a plebiscite. 

The proposal shall be conducted either by Congress (which forms a Constituent Assembly or “Con-Ass” for this purpose) or a Constitutional Convention (also known as “Con-Con,” which comprises around 300 delegates from various legislative districts). The choice as to which of the two would introduce amendments or revisions shall be left to the discretion of Congress. 

A quick trip down memory lane

Why do we need to change the Constitution? Is the Constitution the be-all and end-all of problems plaguing the country?

Historically speaking, Cha-Cha was adopted “to break from the immediate past and usher in a new political order.” To demonstrate, the 1935 Constitution paved way for a post-American government and introduced the concept of democracy in the country. Subsequently, the 1973 Constitution provided a shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of governance, thus ushering in the “one-man rule.” Years after, the 1987 Constitution obliterated this regime and infused the principle of checks and balances.

Meanwhile, during the presidency of Estrada, he wanted to remove the so-called nationalist constitutional clauses. These clauses require majority of the businesses, industries, ownership of lands, and investment ventures to be controlled by Filipinos. Nonetheless, he renounced the proposal after his administration was embroiled in corruption in 2001.

In 2009, the allies of GMA in the House of Representatives attempted to form a Constituent Assembly that excluded opposition senators. This move was eventually halted because of widespread protests in the country. 

In 2014, the Aquino administration initiated a resolution that proposed amendments to the protectionist provisions and foreign participation limits in the Constitution. Aquino, however, persistently opposed it.  

In 2016, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 10 that created a Consultative Committee to review the Constitution. In July 2018, the committee submitted a report that included a draft of a proposed federal charter. Despite this, Congress was unwilling to endorse a resolution to amend or revise the Constitution.

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Present-day conundrum

Evidently, efforts to change the Constitution have miserably failed throughout the years. This could be attributed to a cornucopia of factors, such as having a reluctant Congress, a resistant Head of State, and a distrusting citizenry. 

At present, however, attempts at a charter amendment have seemed to gain traction like greased lightning. Just recently, the House of Representatives approved House Bill 7352 implementing a resolution calling for a Con-Con. They deemed it fit to revise the Constitution, particularly its economic provisions, to ease the country’s limits on foreign capital inflow. For example, they plan to repeal the provision that allows Filipinos to own at least 60% of certain industries.

Other experts, however, believe that the country’s ability to regrow its economy does not depend on Cha-Cha. For them, Cha-Cha is not necessary to draw foreign investors, as it may even carry additional costs in some industries.

With this, one cannot help but think that Cha-Cha might not be the right tool to revitalize the economy. On the contrary, it is highly plausible that many will use it to advance their own interests and prolong their stay in power, which is perhaps why a lot of people are against it to begin with. 

If at all, Cha-Cha should be used to revisit the provisions on the present government framework, qualifications of public officials and groups, and restrictions on political dynasties. For one, it is encouraged that shifting to a federal type of government would have a “cushioning effect on the Muslim rebellion in the South.” It is believed that adding a few qualifications for candidates of public office would encourage more competent leaders to enter public service. It is hoped that reassessing the party-list system would somehow jettison groups that poorly represent their sectors. Finally, it is expected that having stringent requirements on qualifications and term limits would prevent political dynasties from proliferating the country. –

Niel Anthony S. Borja is a law professor in the UP College of Law and Adamson College of Law. He is the present director of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Quezon City Chapter, and a member of the Philippine Bar Association. He holds a Master of Laws Degree from UP College of Law and a Juris Doctor degree from Ateneo Law School.

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