Surely, this is no time for Charter change

Published July 22, 2020, 10:37 PM

by Manila Bulletin

The whole country – the whole world in fact – is reeling from the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, both the death of thousands of people and the economic impact that has sent the country into a recession. And common ordinary folk are suffering from the effects of four straight months of quarantine.

It was, therefore, quite unexpected to learn of the report from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) last Friday that the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), composed of the nation’s 1,488 mayors, had passed a resolution seeking amendment of the Constitution.

The DILG said the LMP national chairman, Mayor Chavit Singson of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, had reported that the mayors are calling for Charter change to “constitutionalize the so-called Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court in the Constitution and the lifting of restrictions on foreign investments in industries currently limited to Filipinos.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former secretary of justice, said the Supreme Court ruling of November, 2018, had declared that the “just share” of local government units is from “all national taxes and not only national internal revenue taxes,” as provided in Section 5, Article X, of the Constitution. There is, therefore, no need to amend the Constitution to “institutionalize” the ruling, he said.

As for the lifting of restrictions on foreign investments in industries, Drilon said this can be done by law. “Maybe the intention of this (the mayors’ resolution) is to postpone the elections in 2022. That is not right…. We cannot postpone the 2022 elections and remove the term limits,” he said.

He was referring to the alleged efforts of administration officials as well as members of Congress to amend the Constitution’s provisions on term limits for all officials – mayors, governors, congressmen, senators, and the president and vice president.

From the start of his administration, President Duterte has called for amendment of the Constitution, including dividing the country into several regions each with its own regional government. under a federation. He formed a Constitutional Commission whose proposals were, however, rejected by members of Congress who had their own proposals and their own interests. The commission’s proposal for regions, each with its own government, was particularly seen as impossible to accomplish as it merely added another expensive level of government bureaucracy.

It was believed then that the President’s principal reason for seeking Charter change was to enable the formation of a Bangsamoro Autonomous region as one of the proposed new regions of the country. But the Bangsamoro Region has now been established by a law ratified by the people. There was no need for Charter change.

Nothing much has been heard about Charter change in the last few months – until this week, a most unlikely time. This is indeed not the time to be pushing for Charter change. This is a time for efforts to stop the COVID-19 pandemic which has already infected over 60,000 in our country. And after the pandemic is stopped, there is need to revive the economy.

With these huge concerns demanding the attention and action of our officials, it does not look like we should be amending the Constitution now, with all the divisiveness that it is bound to cause.