Despite old fears,    suspicions, Charter change move continues

Published February 26, 2021, 10:01 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Despite widespread opposition to any move to amend the Constitution at this time when the country is mired in problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the House of Representatives planned to resume debates on the issue this week.

The House Committee  on Constitutional Amendments had earlier  voted overwhelmingly – 64-3-3 —  to adopt  Resolution of Both Houses 2 (RHB2) to amend certain provisions of the Constitution to  allow Congress to enact laws to allow foreign investments in certain parts of the national economy now closed to foreigners.

One reason for opposition to the move, as  expressed by Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano and Rep. LRay Villafuerte, is that now is not the time to  “tinker” with Constitution, when the country is still grappling with the pandemic.

Another reason, aired by Rep. Mike Defensor, is that  the House leadership  should first confer with the

Senate on  whether the two chambers need to  convene in joint session  or vote  separately on proposed amendments.  “It takes two to cha-cha,”  he said. “Unless the House convinces the Senate to  go  on board its Cha-Cha express, the House would just be wasting precious time, effort, and taxpayers’ money.”

It would indeed be useless if the House approves a Charter resolution, but it would be ignored by the Senate. Many senators have  long rejected moves for Charter  change  in the past, especially the move for  a joint session in which the 24 senators would be swept aside  by a big majority of 307 congressmen.

But  perhaps  the greatest opposition to charter change by Congress –-  rather than by a specially  elected Constitutional  Convention  —  is the suspicion that many officials  want to  remove the present  Constitution’s limitations on the number of years they may serve.   Congressmen as well as local  officials  are now allowed only three three-year terms, while senators are allowed only two six-year terms. Local officials may also serve up to three three-year terms. The President and Vice President serve for six years without reelection.

In a Charter change  by the House and the Senate meeting and voting separately,  there would be  open public discussions  on  amending the economic provisions. But it is feared a provision  on  removing the present  term limits  may  come  up in the final resolution.

The present 1987 Constitution was drawn   up by a  Constitutional  Convention  after the 1986 people’s movement that ended  20 years of  Marcos rule, nine of which were under martial law. This  may  explain  the limitations  the convention  placed on terms of office.

In the succession of administrations after 1987, there were attempts to amend the Constitution, especially its economic provisions,   as  each one  neared the end of its term.  But because of  public suspicions, none of the moves made much progress.

It may indeed be  time to amend these limitations on foreign investments. And it may also be time to allow capable and tested officials  to serve longer  in office. But   the move will have to contend with these long-standing suspicions and fears  that undeserving officials will stay  in office longer than they should because of their political machinery.