News / January 20, 2021

Charter Change

Let us look forward to the future with hope and faith,
believing that the greatest times of life are still ahead.


20 January 2021

The Sangguniang Laiko ng Pilipinas (SLP) on 18 January 2021 published their statement of “opposition to the current moves in both houses of Congress to change the Constitution.”

“Not the opportune time to deal with Chacha!”, they remarked. I wonder, then, when or under what conditions would make it right or ripe.

Moves to change the Constitution date back to the 1990s or some 25-30 years ago.

The first attempt was under President Fidel Ramos. Among the proposed changes were a shift to a parliamentary system and the lifting of term limits of public officials. Ramos argued that these will bring more accountability, continuity and responsibility to a gridlock-prone presidential bicameral system. Some politically active religious groups, opposition politicians, business and left-wing organizations opposed, even the change process that was supposed to lead to a national referendum. Critics argued that the changes would benefit the incumbent.

There was a similar attempt under President Joseph Estrada – CONCORD or Constitutional Correction for Development. Unlike Ramos’, CONCORD, according to its proponents, sought to amend only the restrictive economic provisions of the constitution that impeded the entry of more foreign investments. Again, opposition politicians, religious sects, and left-wing organizations contended that the move would jeopardize national patrimony and was self-serving.

After winning in 2004, Gloria Arroyo created a Consultative Commission, headed by Dr. José Abueva, which task was to propose necessary revisions based on consultation with various sectors of society. After a year of consultations, the Commission came up with proposals that included a shift to a unicameral parliamentary government, economic liberalization, further decentralization of the national government, and more empowerment of local governments through a parliamentary-federal system. Sigaw ng Bayan, headed by Atty. Raul Lambino, campaigned and sought to gather enough signatures to call for a plebiscite through People’s Initiative. Once again, some organizations, politicians, religious sects, business and political groups opposed, claiming the untimeliness of the proposed amendments/revisions and alleging that the incumbent president and her allies would directly benefit from the proposed changes, among other various reasons and beliefs.

With renewed efforts under this administration of Rodrigo Duterte, opposition still abound.

Time and again, the underlying resistance revolve around trust or mistrust – changes benefiting the incumbent, changes being self-serving. “With the 2022 elections just a year and a half away, who will not suspect other underlying political motivations?”, the SLP statement added. I wonder, then, what it will take to have a condition worthy of no suspicion. Nunca, because come 2022 and beyond, under our current political system and culture, we shall continue to have leaders and lawmakers whose promises to the people, without a doubt, will be no better than post-dated checks that will bounce.

“We are in the midst of a pandemic with millions of our countrymen suffering from lack of food, shelter, job, education and a decent and comprehensive health care system,” the SLP statement further said, imploring that these must be government’s priority, not Chacha.

It must be emphasized that the object of Charter Change is precisely to address the entirety of our nation’s socio-political problems brought about, in large part, by our system of government alongside other shortcomings in the present Constitution. Furthermore, the task of finding solutions to these problems, merely exacerbated by the current pandemic, is one that rests primarily on the Executive, not Congress. It doesn’t follow, hence, that Charter Change will compromise the needed attention these problems deserve. Besides, the way forward isn’t just about focusing on problems but rather also on possibilities that could lead to opportunities. I therefore see no validity in the aforesaid statement.

Arguments against Charter Change have been reduced to narrow mindedness – the lack of or limited outlook and unwillingness to consider alternative ideas.

Keep mind, the question on Charter Change is less about whether to change or not. It is more about what changes we should have. Congress’ move, thus, while cynics might say could only open the floodgates to vested interests, can pave the way for substantive discourse and people’s participation on what we ought to have.

The study of both the theory and practices of government, and how power functions, is political science. Science, on the other hand, is much more a way of thinking than it is a body of knowledge. Political science thus poses these questions: What kind of country do we want to have? How do we get there, how do we begin, again?

Norman V. Cabrera

Norman V. Cabrera is member of the National Council, former Secretary-General and former President of Kapatiran Party. The opinions expressed in this article are his personal views and not officially the Party’s.