Charter change requires equanimity, clarity of vision

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Recently, debates on Charter change between Senate and House leaders have made the headlines. The Senate passed a resolution rejecting the people’s initiative mode of Charter change, while some House of Representatives leaders have adopted a divergent viewpoint.

Since the country gained independence from the United States in 1946 and began to enforce the 1935 Philippine Constitution that was prepared by the Commonwealth government, there have been only two major Charter changes.

The first was in 1973, when a new basic law was adopted after the onset of martial law, based essentially on the draft prepared by the 1971 Constitutional Convention. The second occurred in 1987, following the ratification by the people in a plebiscite of a new Charter a year after the EDSA People Power transition. This Constitution has been in force for nearly 37 years, or 11 years longer than the 1935 Constitution that was in force from 1946 to 1972.

In 2006, the Supreme Court upheld the Commission on Elections’ decision stating that the “people’s initiative” could only be used for proposing minor amendments, and not for major changes such as abolishing the Senate and establishing a unicameral, British-style parliamentary system in which there is power-sharing between the president and the prime minister. The High Court also ruled that, contrary to law, the amendments were not “directly proposed by the people,” considering that these had already been formulated when the signatures were solicited.

Last week, House Speaker Martin Romualdez wrote Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri stating that the representatives “await the approval (by) the Senate of the Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 6, and we commit to adopt this measure pertaining to the amendments of the economic provisions of the Constitution.” Specified in RBH No. 6 as focal points for Charter review are Section 11 of Article XII or the National Patrimony and Economy; Paragraph 2, Section 4 of Article XIV on Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture, and Sports; and Paragraph 2, Section 11 of Article XVI of the General Provisions.

This development followed the Senate’s rejection of ongoing campaigns for a people’s initiative, perceived as being backed by House members, seeking to empower both houses of Congress to amend the Constitution while voting as a unified constituent assembly.

Above the din of partisan debate in the legislature, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. has stated that, “The 1987 Constitution was not written for a globalized world… We have to adjust so that we can increase the economic activities in the Philippines. We can attract foreign investors.” Hence, he has broadly hinted that Charter change appears to be a desirable option.

Meantime, even the legislators who have been involved in spirited debates over the mode of Charter change agree that there are many pressing national concerns that need to be addressed urgently, foremost of which is reducing cost of basic commodities. Also flagged as citizens’ priorities in the latest OCTA survey were: reducing poverty and hunger, fighting graft and corruption, stopping illegal drugs, and ensuring food security.

Responsible leadership calls for equanimity and clarity of vision, especially in matters involving the Constitution that is the bedrock of democracy in our land.