Cha-cha momentum

By Antonio S. Lopez

Two kinds of charter change: One, amendment; and two, revision.  Amendment is like changing the old dirty oil of a car engine.  Revision is like overhauling a car’s engine or replacing the engine altogether.

When you change certain specific or a limited number of provisions of the Constitution, that is amendment.  When you change the system of government, like from presidential to parliamentary, or removing limits on how many times elected officials, like the president, could be elected to the same position, that is revision. 

There are three major ways to effect charter change: One, the Congress upon three-fourths vote of ALL its members; two, a constitutional convention; and three, a people’s initiative provided 12% of total voters nationwide sign the petition but with each district represented as signatories, by a minimum of 3% of its voters.

Fourth mode

A fourth mode is now being proposed, thru legislation, by inserting “unless otherwise provided by law” to restrictive provisions in the Constitution that limit or ban majority to 100% foreign ownership or participation in certain economic activities, such as land, educational institutions, advertising, and public services.

This cha-cha by legislation, with the 24-member Senate and 316 House of Representatives (253 district congressmen and 63 party-list congressmen) voting separately on the bill, surfaced after a popular initiative (PI) gained ground in many congressional districts. PI was to be approved by July 8, 2024.

Alarmed that PI was popular pala, Senate President Migz Zubiri advanced a Senate resolution agreeing to adding, by legislation, “unless otherwise provided by law” to the restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution.  Quoting President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.  himself, the Senate chief dismissed PI as “divisive”.

PI, sneers Migz, could result in a constitutional crisis, “destabilizing our bicameralism and upsetting the system of checks and balances.”  BBM and Migz have met twice on cha-cha, on Jan. 5, and on Jan. 11, 2024.

 A third meeting, on Jan. 17, was held right along the banks of the Pasig  River, during a dinner after the First Couple inaugurated the first 500 meters of the 25-km Pasig River Development Project called “Pasig Bigyang Buhay Muli” (PBBM).

Migz says his resolution has the support of 14 senators.   In a Congress convened as a constituent assembly, you need three-fourths or 18 senators, assuming the Senate could vote separately. 

The view in Congress is that a constituent assembly must join the Senate and the House, with the Senate’s 24 votes diluted by over 300 congressmen. 

There had been instances in the past when the Senate and House together voting as one decided on an issue. 

Fear of being rendered irrelevant might have motivated majority of the senators to dance the cha-cha.  Hence, the Zubiri resolution.

Transformative economic growth

House Speaker Martin Romualdez welcomes Zubiri’s move, saying “Our nation stands on the cusp of transformative economic growth, and it is imperative that we adapt our constitutional framework to the evolving global economic landscape. The amendments proposed are not just timely but necessary to unlock the full potential of our economy, fostering a more competitive, inclusive, and robust economic environment.”

In the past, people rejected cha-cha attempts.  During the presidencies of Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, people were suspicious of cha-cha, seeing it as nothing more than self-aggrandizement or attempts to perpetuate incumbents in power, especially the president of the Philippines.  Today, the mood has changed. 

Marcos Jr. is today, among the most popular of presidents.   In May 2022, he won the presidency with 31.62 million votes, 59% of the votes cast, and 16.5 million more votes than the distant second placer, Leni Robredo who got a mere 27.9% of the vote. 

It is the first time since Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was reelected in 1969 that the nation voted a majority president.  

In the December 2023 Pulse Asia survey, BBM enjoyed a 68% approval, up three points from 65% in September 2023.

BBM world’s second most popular leader

A 68% approval makes BBM the second most popular world leader, after Narendra Modi of India’s 77%; and ahead of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico’s 64%, Alain Berset of Switzerland’s 57%; Donald Tusk of Poland’s 50%; Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil’s 47%, and Anthony Albanese of Australia’s 45%.

Justin Trudeau of Canada languishes at 35%. Joe Biden of the US barely manages 37% and is likely to lose the November 2024 US presidential election with voters preferring Donald Trump who has yet to be certified as a loose cannon.

A Constitution born out of anger and fear

With 23,200 words, the PH Constitution has been found wanting to meet the basic rights and basic needs of the people. 

It was drafted by 48 handpicked delegates of President Cory Aquino — with anger and fear in mind.

They were angry with another Marcos dictatorship.  So the delegates made sure the army could revolt against the commander-in-chief, calling the AFP “the protector of the people”. 

They tried to curb political dynasties by imposing terms limits—one term of six years for president, two terms of 12 years for senators, and three terms of nine years for congressmen.

The scheme produced the opposite effect—dynasties prospered as children and nearest of kin took over from warlords and incumbents.

Foreign control

The charter writers were afraid of foreign control—fear of US bases and fear of foreign investments. 

In 2022, economist Toti Chikiamco summed up the failure after 35 years: nearly 80% poor or near-poor, dependence on imports for food, a shrunken economy, a tenth of the people gone abroad, kids 10 years behind their regional peers in education.

“We have failed to set up a rule of law.  Dynastic politics, not accountable political parties, dominate the political system.  Our institutions, most especially our bureaucracy, are weak, inefficient and corrupt.” (see related stories on pages 36-47)