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BLIND SPOT: Changes in Charter Change

They’re at it again; now with more ferocious budget cutting threat and throwing of weight here and there. The Duterte administration is adamantly pushing for charter change through constituent assembly; proposing a shift to a federal form of government. Along with it is a probable extension of terms of incumbent legislators. “some of the proposed changes to the 1987 Constitution are limited protection for free speech, the possible abolition of the Office of the Vice President, Office of the Ombudsman, and Judicial and Bar Council.” Come on; piece the puzzle together. What do you think the Philippine government would look like? For millennials and menials, this isn’t the first time that an administration has campaigned for constitutional change. It has gone cyclically that at times, I feel like telling these bigwigs to get over with it because the tirades become too tiresome. But then, there are parties perennially casting suspicions of term extensions and unfair amendments. So, let’s take a walk back memory lane. Under the Noynoy Aquino administration, “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 a resolution pushing for economic liberalization.” ( ) Apparently, nothing much came out of these proposals. Besides, if you type “charter change in the Philippines” on the search edit box, former President Noynoy Aquino’s name wouldn’t probably appear on the results list. Under the Arroyo administration, “by virtue of Executive Order No. 453, the Consultative Commission was created and was 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.” During the same term, “In December 2006, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr. attempted to push for the constitutional change process by convening the house of Representatives and the Senate into a Constituent Assembly”, to which various sectors responded with massive protest. “Monico O. Puentevella on May 7, 2008, filed House Concurrent Resolution No. 15, which supported Senate Resolution No. 10 backed by 16 senators”, which 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”. Well, we’re still in a presidential unitary system, so you could say that none of those attempts prospered. Under the Estrada administration, the President “formed the Constitutional Correction for Development (Concord), which pushed for the lifting of restrictions on the foreign ownership of business.” ( ) There was a running perception then that foreign investments did not prosper locally, and move to neighboring Southeast Asian nations because of our limiting constitutional provisions which prevented full ownerships of businesses by foreigners. Similarly, different sectors rallied their forces against this campaign; in the skepticism that it was all a ploy to extend terms in office. Once again, since we still have the same system of government, that goes to show that this move did not meet with much success. Interestingly, Erap pushed for ‘constitutional correction”; whereas he opposed President Ramos’ charter change, when he was his vice president. What’s with politician? Rather, what’s with people? The first attempt to change the 1987 Constitution saw the light of day under the Ramos administration which proposed “a shift to a parliamentary system and the lifting of term limits of public officials, which Ramos argued will bring more accountability, continuity, and responsibility to the “gridlock”-prone Philippine version of presidential bicameral system.” Does anyone remember the PIRMA or the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action which sought signatures for revision of the Constitution? (I must admit the name is clever marketing scheme to make people sign.) Eventually though, the initiative was slammed by the Supreme Court for lack of merit. Yes. They’ve been trying to overthrow the 1987 Constitution; but the post-EDSA charter has proven to be an unconquerable castle. The prevailing sentiment against its various incarnations throughout administrations is the paranoia that it is a scheme for the incumbent politicians to remain in power for a longer time. On the other hand, in a sober discussion, most of the legally learned would agree that some of the provisions of the Constitution does need some changes in some form or another. So, where do we go? Are we just too scared of another Marcos that we would resist change? Or are we too engrossed on seeing charter change as a reliable road to progress; that we neglect that the solution might be on implementation of laws? But I guess, if a congressman doesn’t want a zero budget, he has no other choice but to support federalism. How is that funny? “Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods? But My people have changed their Glory for what does not profit” Jeremiah 2:11

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