Constitutional reform in the Philippines
Constitutional reform in the Philippines, also known as Charter Change or Cha-cha, refers to the political and legal processes needed to amend the current 1987 Constitution of the Philippines. Under the common interpretation of the Constitution, amendments can be proposed by one of three methods: a People's Initiative, a Constituent Assembly or a Constitutional Convention. A fourth method, by both houses passing a joint concurrent resolution, with a three-fourth supermajority, has been proposed by House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. who subsequently submitted to the House of Representatives "Resolution of Both Houses No. 1". The "simple legislation as the means to amend" would require approval only by both Houses voting separately.
There have been five constitutional conventions in Philippine history:
- Tejeros Convention (1897)
- Malolos Congress (1899)
- 1934 Constitutional Convention
- 1973 Constitutional Convention
- 1987 Constitutional Commission
While no amendment to the 1987 Constitution has succeeded, there has been several high-profile attempts. None reached the ratification by referendum stage.
The first attempt to amend the 1987 Constitution was under President Fidel Ramos. Among the proposed changes in the constitution included a shift to a parliamentary system and the lifting of term limits of public officials. Ramos argued that the changes will bring more accountability, continuity, and responsibility to the "gridlock"-prone Philippine version of presidential bicameral system. Some politically active religious groups, opposition politicians, business tycoons and left-wing organizations opposed the process that was supposed to lead to a national referendum. Critics argued that the proposed constitutional changes for one would benefit the incumbent, Ramos. On September 21, 1997, a church-organized rally brought in an estimated half a million people to Rizal Park.
Furthermore, on September 23, 1997, the advocates suffered a setback when the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, narrowly dismissed a petition filed by the People's Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA), which sought to amend the Constitution through a signature campaign or People's Initiative. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition on the grounds that the People's Initiative mode does not have enough enabling law for the proposed revisions or amendments in the 1987 constitution. Had the petition been successful, a national plebiscite would have been held for proposed changes.
Under President Joseph Estrada, there was a similar attempt to change the 1987 constitution. The process is termed as CONCORD or Constitutional Correction for Development. Unlike Constitutional Reform under Ramos and Arroyo the CONCORD proposal, according to its proponents, would amend only the restrictive economic provisions of the constitution that are considered to impede the entry of more foreign investments in the Philippines.
There were, once again, objections from opposition politicians, religious sects and left-wing organizations based on diverse arguments such as national patrimony and the proposed constitutional changes would be self-serving. Again, the government was accused of pushing constitutional reform for its own vested interests.
Under President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, there were more attempts to change the 1987 constitution. Constitutional reform was included in Arroyo's election campaign platform during the 2004 elections and was considered a high priority. After winning the 2004 elections, Arroyo, by virtue of Executive Order No. 453, created the Consultative Commission, headed by Dr. Jose V. Abueva. The task of the Consultative Commission was to propose the "necessary" revisions on the 1987 constitution after various consultation with different sectors of society. After about a year of consultations, the Consultative Commission came up with proposals that included a shift to a unicameral parliamentary form of government; economic liberalization; further decentralization of national government, and more empowerment of local governments by a transition to a parliamentary-federal government system. While constitutional reform and "opening up" of the Philippine economy are generally supported by small and medium businesses in the country and by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) and the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP)), it is opposed by the Makati Business Club (MBC).
Sigaw ng Bayan's Initiative
The political process that would carry on the proposed amendments recommended by the Consultative Commission was campaigned by the Sigaw ng Bayan group (Cry of the People) and ULAP in 2005-2006. Sigaw ng Bayan was headed by Atty. Raul Lambino, a former member of the Consultative Commission. The aim of Sigaw ng Bayan group was to gather enough signatures to call for a plebiscite on the proposed constitutional changes by a People's Initiative.
Once again some organizations, politicians, religious sects, business tycoons and political groups, such as One Voice, were opposed for various reasons and beliefs, claiming untimeliness of the proposed amendments/revisions and the allegation that the incumbent president and her allies would directly benefit from the proposed changes. The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), an organization labeled by the United States as terrorist, denounced the cha-cha process as "anti-masses" and called on their paramilitary group, the New People's Army, and their left-wing supporters to campaign against reform and intensify the destruction of what they viewed as a feudal, fascist Philippine regime backed by the imperialist United States.
On October 25, 2006, the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, by a vote of 8-7, narrowly rejected Sigaw ng Bayan's Initiative on two grounds:
- The initiative failed to comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution for conducting a people's initiative.
- The initiative proposed revisions and not amendments. Under the 1987 Constitution, a people's initiative cannot introduce constitutional revisions but only amendments. The Court held that changing the form of government, from presidential to parliamentary, or abolishing a house of Congress, like the Senate, are revisions, which cannot be done by a people's initiative.
The insufficient enabling law of the 1997 Supreme Court decision, however, was overturned by the same Supreme Court in the motion for reconsideration by Sigaw ng Bayan, with the Supreme Court announcing in November 2006 that there is an adequate enabling law for the People's Initiative mode to propose amendments to the Constitution.
Constituent Assembly under De Venecia
In December 2006, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. attempted to push for the constitutional change process by convening the House of Representatives of the Philippines and the Senate of the Philippines into a Constituent Assembly, or "con-ass," one of the three modes by which the 1987 Constitution could be amended.
Once again, the anti-terrorist change forces threatened massive protests on the political process that could lead to a plebiscite on the constitutional reform issue. Former President Joseph Estrada; left-wing organizations such as BAYAN; Brother Mike Velarde of El Shaddai (movement); Brother Eddie Villanueva of Jesus is Lord Movement (JLM); Butch Valdes of Philippines LaRouche Youth Movement; Jose Maria Sison (who is currently in exile) of Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and other groups and personalities called on their followers to go home that will culminate in a major "eating rally" on December 17, 2006. A few days before the major rally that was heavily publicized by the mainstream media in the Philippines, House Speaker De Venecia retreated on the constituent assembly (con-ass) mode to give way for constitutional reform via constitutional convention (con-con): the only mode of constitutional reform that many anti-constitutional reform groups said they will support. Speaker De Venecia "challenged" everyone to support his new proposal for the election of constitutional convention delegates to be held on the same day as the May 2007 local elections. Despite the concessions made by Speaker De Venecia, opponents ignored his new proposal and still pushed through with the rally that was supposed to reach 500,000 to 3,000,000 people. However, the turnout based on Director Wilfredo Garcia's (chief of Philippine National Police-Directorate for Operations) and other media reporter's estimate did not grow beyond 15,000 and was significantly composed of members of left-wing organizations. In the "eating rally," the religious leaders called on the whole nation to embrace "electric post," "face removal," and "character change" instead of systematic changes such as constitutional reform.
Constituent Assembly under Nograles-Pimentel
Monico O. Puentevella on May 7, 2008, filed House Concurrent Resolution No. 15, which supported Senate Resolution No. 10 backed by 16 senators. Unlike the Nene Pimentel Senate Resolution, Puentevella included the option of holding a constitutional convention but excluded a People's Initiative. Prospero Nograles, a self-proclaimed advocate of federalism, announced on May 1, 2008: "This federal system of government is close to my heart as a Mindanaoan leader and I'm sure most of the leaders in Mindanao will agree that we have long clamored for it. Senate Resolution 10 is a pleasant surprise because the Senate has a long history of opposing any move to amend the Constitution." The joint Senate resolution called for the creation of 11 federal states in the country by convening of Congress "into a constituent assembly for the purpose of revising the Constitution to establish a federal system of government."
Arroyo stated to visiting Swiss President Pascal Couchepin: "We advocate federalism as a way to ensure long-lasting peace in Mindanao." Press Secretary Jesus Dureza, on August 12, 2008, stated, "It's all systems go for Charter change. We are supporting Senate Joint Resolution No. 10. Naughty insinuations that she [Arroyo] was going for Cha-cha [Charter change] because she wants to extend her term in office prompted the President to make her position clear. She is calling for a constitutional amendment... in order to bring about the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity. An opportunity should be given to the whole country to avail of the reform effects of federalism. The sentiment of many people there is to give local officials more authority in order to perform better. And the federal set-up is the way forward to this. The President has approved the way forward and there's no question about it. If she has the political will to do it she has to muster political will in spite of all these noises."
Meanwhile, Representative Victor Ortega of La Union, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said that his survey showed that 115 (94.26%) of the 123 solons were in favor of amending the Constitution. However, opposition and leftist lawmakers questioned the results and the intent of Ortega's survey and called Arroyo's proposal a ploy for her "perpetuation in power" and the removal of protectionist provisions in the Charter. The survey showed 62 respondents favored constitutional reform by a constitutional assembly, and 89 respondents were in favor of shifting to a parliamentary form of government, compared to 56 who voted for federalism, and 70 respondents preferred to amend the Constitution after the 2010 presidential elections. Members of the committee on constitutional amendments would vote by the end August on whether to amend the Constitution. However, nothing came out from the proposal.
Aquino III administration
Belmonte's joint resolution on economic provisions
President Benigno Aquino III had no concrete plans regarding constitutional reform, but several proposals were put forth by different members of Congress. Senate Resolution No. 10, by Senator Pimentel, called for constitutional reform to convert to a federal republic. Cagayan de Oro Representative Rufus Rodriguez and Abante Mindanao (ABAMIN) party-list Representative Maximo Rodriguez Jr. filed a bill pushing for a federal and parliamentary government, in addition to economic liberalization.
Speaker of the House, Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 1, pushing for economic liberalization. The resolution would add five words to seven economic provisions in the Constitution: "unless otherwise provided by law." The seven provisions are Section 2, Art. XII on exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources; Section 3, Art. XII on alienable lands on the public domain; Section 7, Art. XII on conveyance of private lands; Section 10, Art. XII on reserved investments; Section 11, Art. XII on grant of franchises, certificates, or any other forms of authorization for the operation of public entity; Section 4 (2), Art. XIV on ownership of educational institutions; and Section 11 (1 and 2), Art. XVI on ownership and management of mass media and on the policy for engagement in the advertising industry. Supporting economic liberalism are major business groups like the Foundation for Economic Freedom, Arangkada Philippines, and the Makati Business Club. Governmental agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry also are calling for economic liberalization. The resolution made it through two readings in the House of Representatives but has not had a third reading.
During the May 2016 election, Rodrigo Duterte stated in May 2016 that a plebiscite on the proposed replacement of the unitary state with a federal one will be held in two years.
After winning, Duterte proposed to revive the proposed form of Nene Pimentel.
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