Charter change (Cha-cha) has never been popular. All our Presidents who succeeded Cory Aquino, except Benigno Aquino III, attempted it. So far, no one has succeeded in overcoming the four “Ws” of Cha-cha, namely: What? Why? When? and Who?
During the terms of Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, major attempts to institute the parliamentary system via the people’s initiative were shot down by the Supreme Court.
A “Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reforms” chaired by retired CJ Andres R. Narvasa was created by Joseph Estrada. However, its report remained unacted upon as Estrada was ousted by Edsa People Power 2.
Early in his term, President Duterte named a “Consultative Commission” to study how to transform our centralized structure to federal. Chaired by retired CJ Reynato S. Puno, it drafted a sweeping “Bayanihan Constitution” which to this day remains unused.
However, days ago, Senate President Tito Sotto revealed that the President wanted Congress to undertake two surgical amendments: (1) to abolish or modify the party-list system, and (2) to lift the nationalistic restrictions of our Constitution.
To satisfy the first “W” (What?) of Cha-cha, let me say that the party-list was really “an experiment” taken from parliamentary regimes and inserted into our presidential system, resulting in a hybrid that invited attacks for being merely an expensive duplication of district solons.
Worse, the texts of the Constitution and the party-list law are vague, if not convoluted. Even the Supreme Court was confused. It flipped from limiting the party-list only to the marginalized and underrepresented to opening it to all sectors including the rich and overrepresented; and from restricting the number of party-list representatives to a selected few to mandating a compulsory 20 percent of the entire House of Representatives.
The other proposal on the lifting of the nationalistic provisions does not really remove the restrictions; it merely authorizes Congress to determine from time to time the allowable percentage of foreign investments in key economic areas.
On the second “W” (Why?), President Duterte explained that the party-list had been misused to help terrorists and rebels. On the other hand, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco justified the need for more foreign investments to propel the economy, create jobs, and alleviate poverty. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III argued for the “opening up of our economy in all areas possible with the exception of land ownership.”
The third “W” (When?) was aptly raised by Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other business and civic leaders. He succinctly explained that “what the government should prioritize now is the enactment of bills to help the country get back up from the impact of the pandemic.”
Indeed, Congress has very little time because the Commission on Elections normally sets the filing of certificates of candidacies for national positions in early October to prepare for the May 9, 2022 polls. Note also that our Charter requires the plebiscite to ratify the amendments to be “held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the approval of such amendment[s]…”
On the fourth “W” (Who?), the proponents chose the constituent assembly to tackle the changes. Can the honorable legislators, especially those running in the next election, be trusted to devote their best in tackling these amendments? What will prevent them from presenting proposals to benefit themselves, like term extensions?
Moreover, this method brings up the delicate issue of whether the two Houses of Congress should discuss, deliberate, and vote jointly or separately to satisfy the required affirmative vote of “three-fourths of all its [Congress’] Members.” This issue could be resolved with finality only by the Supreme Court, a process that could take a lot of time.
From where I sit, I think Charter change has not gained momentum during the last 34 years because of public suspicion that politicians cannot be trusted with Cha-cha.
Thus, the bottom line can be reduced to a simple question of trust. If the lawmakers can (1) ride on the President’s 91-percent trust rating, (2) stick to the two proposals and nothing else, (3) vote separately, and (4) concurrently pass CREATE and the other urgent recovery bills, then I believe they could overcome the four “Ws” this time.
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