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EXPLAINER: What you need to know about charter change

By NICK GARCIA Published Apr 03, 2023 7:23 pm

Since the 1987 Constitution was promulgated during Cory Aquino's term, lawmakers have pushed for revisions or amendments after her presidency.

But all kinds of push never came to shove, from the Fidel Ramos to the Rodrigo Duterte administration.

Under the term of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., calls for charter change (cha-cha) have returned with the intention to tweak the constitution's "restrictive" economic provisions to bounce back from the ravages of COVID-19.

The House of Representatives has shown much eagerness toward cha-cha, while the Senate practically only has one crusader in Sen. Robinhood Padilla.

Here's what you need to know about charter change.

What is charter change?

Charter change pertains to the political and legal processes that amend provisions in the 1987 Constitution.

Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution states that it cannot be amended within five years following its ratification nor oftener than once every five years thereafter. The constitution is now 36 years old.

There are three ways to push for cha-cha: constitutional convention (con-con), in which delegates from various fields will oversee proposals; constituent assembly (con-ass), in which incumbent lawmakers will take charge; and people's initiative, a petition from 12% of total registered voters.

The Senate president and House speaker will handpick the con-con delegates, comprising retired judiciary members, professors, economists, and lawyers. There are also stakeholders from the fields of medicine, science and technology, labor, urban poor, agriculture, and business. Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, senior citizens, women, and youth will also get representation.

The House of Representatives on March 6 approved on third and final reading Resolution of Both Houses No. 6. calling for a "hybrid" con-con, comprising appointed and elected members.

If passed by both the House and the Senate—and then signed into law by Marcos—con-con members will be appointed and elected on Oct. 30, 2023, the same day as the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections. The convention will last for seven months—from Nov. 20, 2023 to June 30, 2024.

Delegates are set to get a daily stipend of P10,000 over the period, as well as travel and lodging allowance.

They will also be self-entitled to having their respective offices and staff, care of taxpayers.

Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez estimated that expenses would amount to at least P9.5 billion.

As for Padilla, who chairs the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, con-ass is the way to go. He released a draft copy of the report containing cha-cha proposals on March 31.

The report has yet to reach the Senate plenary, as it would need signatures of over half of his committee's members. Only Padilla has signed it so far.

Proposed amendments

House Speaker Martin Romualdez said they aim to limit proposed amendments to the "restrictive" economic provisions.

Article XII Section 2 states that all lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources must be owned by Filipinos.

Any exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the state's full control and supervision. Filipinos must also own at least 60% of businesses, while foreign ownership is limited to 40% at most.

"The State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos," Article II Section 19 also reads.

“We are identifying the Constitution now as the last piece of the puzzle," Romualdez said.

"We believe that once we open it, and once we revisit the economic provisions," he added, "then I think we will get the final success that we have been looking for."

Padilla also wanted to "accelerate economic growth" by giving foreign investors more leeway. This, he said, will generate jobs, induce higher wages, improve the performance of service sectors, and reduce the cost of goods and services through economic competition.

What are the arguments for and against charter change?

While the intention to revive the Philippine economy seems promising, critics couldn't help but think that lawmakers pushing for charter change have other motives. In particular, critics warned about the possible extension of term limits as well as other proposals deemed as self-serving, especially with the prevalence of political dynasties in the country.

“It’s not the right time,” Florangel Rosario Braid, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, told PhilSTAR L!fe. “Amending it now would derail future initiatives in equalizing opportunities.”

In a column, she pointed out that the country is going through so many upheavals and facing numerous uncertainties, and what should be the government’s priority is finding a response to the “ailing democracy” and ensuring there’s food on the table.

More importantly, Braid told L!fe that the heart of the constitution is social justice and human rights. For her, the problem lies not in the 1987 Constitution but rather in the lack of political will to implement its noteworthy provisions.

Citing her co-framer Christian Monsod, Braid in another column said programs on social justice, human rights, and local autonomy are underperforming because they’re either underfunded or have loopholes. She urged Congress to instead identify provisions needing laws that would address social and economic disparities.

Braid has minced no words in saying the recent cha-cha initiative won’t gain ground.

It’s not the right time. Amending it now would derail future initiatives in equalizing opportunities. —Florangel Rosario Braid, 1987 Constitution framer

But for Enrique Dela Cruz Jr., DivinaLaw senior partner who teaches constitutional law at the University of Santo Tomas, amending economic provisions like allowing foreign ownership of land can help bring in foreign direct investments and lead to progress.

“If we'll focus on that, I agree,” he told L!fe. “We need to attract foreign investors as we don't have sufficient capital.”

While there’s COVID-19 and inflation, Dela Cruz pointed out that addressing these issues and pushing for cha-cha aren’t mutually exclusive.

“It's not the magic bill that will solve all the present problems, but it will help us in the long run,” he said. “It's an institutional change that's very needed.”

Aside from economic provisions, Dela Cruz pointed out other noteworthy constitutional amendments for consideration, such as higher qualifications for running for public office.

It's not the magic bill that will solve all the present problems, but it will help us in the long run. It's an institutional change that's very needed. —Enrique Dela Cruz Jr., senior partner at DivinaLaw

As it stands, qualifications include being a natural-born Filipino citizen, able to read and write, a registered voter, of certain age, and a resident of the country for a specific number of years.

“It's harder to become a security guard than become a public official,” Dela Cruz said. “We keep complaining about incompetent officials. The root cause is in the constitution.”

He said turning the "absurd" multi-party into a two-party system is also a welcome proposal.

Cha-cha 'not a priority'

While Padilla is steadfast about cha-cha, Senate President Migz Zubiri said it isn't among the priority measures of the upper chamber.

Zubiri noted that his colleagues have misgivings about the proposal, including senators Koko Pimentel, Grace Poe, and Nancy Binay. He didn't shy away in saying the Senate doesn't "really have the numbers" to push for it, as the proposal needs at least three-fourths or 18 votes.

“Almost half of the senators I talked to are against charter change,” he said.

Zubiri also pointed out that there are already laws addressing limitations on foreign investments and making the Philippines more economically competitive, namely: the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investments Act.

In particular, Duterte signed into law amendments to the Public Service Act, which already allowed 100% foreign ownership in industries like telecommunications, railways, expressways, airports, and shipping industries. Public utility vehicles, water, electricity, petroleum pipelines, and seaports still have limitations.

In any case, Padilla is hopeful that fellow PDP-Laban member colleagues Francis Tolentino, Bong Go, and Bato Dela Rosa will support him. Padilla also expects backing from Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, who also filed a resolution seeking to amend the constitution via con-ass.

Dela Rosa, however, was resigned to the fact that the proposal won't make it to the plenary.

Above all, it's Marcos himself who already said that there are so many other things that need to be done first other than cha-cha.

“It's not a priority for me,” he told reporters in February during his flight back to Manila from Tokyo.

The president also pointed out that though there are indeed restrictive economic provisions in the constitution, cha-cha isn’t necessary to attract foreign investments.

“If it isn’t broke, why fix it?” Braid also said of the 1987 Constitution.