The last time there was a survey of public opinion on the move to amend the Constitution, a big majority of 67 percent – nearly seven out of every ten Filipinos – opposed Charter change at this time. The survey was conducted by Pulse Asia in June this year. The opposition to Charter change had grown from 64 percent in the previous survey in March.
On the particular issue of shifting from the present unitary system of government to a federal one, the survey found that 62 percent oppose such a change.
Despite this evidence of great opposition to Charter change at this time, the House of Representatives continues to press for such change. Last December 11, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved a resolution proposing amendments to terms of office of legislators and local officials and to economic provisions of the present Constitution.
The committee headed by Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City proposed that senators, congressmen, and local officials have five-year terms, with two possible reelections. Today, a senator has a six-year term, with one possible reelection. A congressmen has a three-year t erm with two possible reelections. A local official has a three-year term, with two possible reelections. Basically, the point of the proposed change is that the present three-year terms are not practical, since the first year is spent getting adjusted while the third and last year is used to plan for reelection, leaving only one year for real work.
The committee proposed that instead of nationwide voting for senators, they should be elected by regions – three each from nine proposed regions – to ensure more equitable representation by the various regions. The present Senate, Rodriguez pointed out, has 12 members from Metro Manila.
The committee also proposed that the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” be attached to economic provisions of the present Constitution that now limit foreign equity in land ownership, exploration of natural resources, public utilities, mass media, advertising, and education..
The House is no longer pushing hard for federalism. Federalism was originally sought by President Duterte to allow greater regional development, especially for Muslim Mindanao. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region has now been established and is on the way to faster development and greater autonomy in governance, even without federalism.
Congressman Rodriguez said his committee’s proposals will now go to the entire chamber for enactment by three-fourths vote of the House as part of a Constituent Assembly. He called on the Senate to similarly meet as the other chamber of a Constituent Assembly to approve its own proposed amendments.
The Senate has been cold to any amendment of the Constitution. Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he was not even aware that the House was pursuing the move for constitutional change, in the wake of recent studies that a shift to a federal system of government would just create new layers of the bureaucracy that would cost billions of pesos that the country cannot afford.
Then there is also the matter of the opinion surveys which show that the people do not support any constitutional change at this time.