The Charter Change Issue: An Overview

by Renne F. Gumba
Director, ADNU Institute of Politics

The Philippine Constitution is a dynamic embodiment of the aspirations and ideals of the Filipinos. Although such dynamism is often clouded by conservatism among some practitioners in the legal arena, the fundamental law of the land itself provides at least three(3) mechanisms for revisions and or amendments so that it will continue to be relevant and significant. First is peoples’ initiative. Unfortunately, this is rarely resorted to because of the supposedly insurmountable legal and logistical difficulties. Second is the Constitutional Convention, wherein delegates are elected to draft the proposed changes. And third is the Constituent Assembly, wherein the House of Representatives and Senate constitute themselves into a deliberative assembly to draft and  propose changes in the Constitution.

Along this line, several attempts to introduce changes in the present Philippine constitution has been undertaken in the past. Former Speaker Ramon Mitra, Sen. John Osmeña, Former President Ramos, Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., and even the deposed President Joseph Estrada also tried to tinker with the Constitution. All of their efforts however were either met with formidable resistance or simply fizzled out in the complex environment of Philippine politics.

At present, the issue of Charter Change was revived again. Among the prime actors this time are some members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. A parallel movement in the civil society, which has traditionally been opposed to Charter Change, was born amidst the advocacy for federalism and parliamentary form of government. Thus, an impetus for significant social change through the Constitution was generated, also perceived to be opportune and timely.

But such perception was met with opposition. Among the most prominent arguments from the opposition to charter change are the following: it is not timely (given the present socio-political context), it is designed to postpone elections and prolong stay in office by the present regime, and it will open the floodgates to social disturbance and division.

THUS, THE  DEBATE  WHETHER CHARTER CHANGE (AND WHAT TYPE OF CHANGES) IS ACCEPTABLE AT THE MOMENT WAS BORN.

It is within this context that the House of Representatives Committee on Constitutional Convention conducted a series of consultations nationwide. In Bicol, such activity was conducted in Naga City last 16 November 2002. Among the participants in the consultation, there was a mixed signal on respective positions over the charter change debate. But there was significant opposition and paranoia over Constituent Assembly as a mode for introducing change into the Constitution.

Unfortunately, while the Bicol consultation was going on, the Committee Chairperson was also giving statements to a national paper explicitly stating plans to reconstitute Congress into a Constituent Assembly as early as February 2003 and suggest changes to the Constitution within six months.

Such statement, followed by other press statements and rumors, gave the impression that Congress is preparing for a move towards Constituent Assembly to draft and propose changes in the Constitution. This is compounded by the Congress leadership’s endorsement of HOR leadership Concurrent Resolution No. 16 calling for such assembly.

This developments galvanized opposition to Constituent Assembly. They argue that   peoples participation (even in the drafting of proposed changes to the Constitution) is non-negotiable and indispensable in any attempt to change the fundamental law of the land.  Undue speed also undermines the validity and acceptability of proposed changes. Moreover, there is a  need for more time and resources for such an important process.

THUS, THE DEBATE  ON THE ACCEPTABILITY OF CONSTITUTENT ASSEMBLY AS A MODE FOR CHANGING THE CONSTITUTION ALSO EMERGED AS AN IMMEDIATE CONCERN.

Therefore, in this situation, it is now imperative to enhance awareness of the issues among the people so that significant participation may be generated and genuinely democratic processes be guaranteed.

————–

Source: Ateneo de Naga University Institute of Politics

Advertisements

About this entry