When I first saw the TV news about Cha-Cha, I was baffled to see criticisms and protest made against charter change. I’ve lots of thoughts jam-packed in my mind back ten. Why a dance like Cha-Cha would receive such criticisms.
I don’t know the true meaning of Cha-Cha back then until that following year, when the TV News featured Cha-Cha again. I’ve watched the whole scoop and I’ve found out that Cha-Cha is not a social dance that I used to think was. The playful mind of the Filipinos has just used that as an abbreviation of the term called Charter Change.
According to the scoop, Charter Change is the amendment or revision for the current constitution which is the current 1987 Philippine Constitution. I’ve remembered that that scoop was shown on 2005.
Years later, another news rang out of television. De Venecia was proposing another Charter Change. I’ve heard that issue again for the third time. I wondered why the issue of Charter Change is still alive in the Philippines.
News came out, “De Venecia ousted from House Speakership, and Nograles takes his place.” That news made me sought in relief. I thought that the issue about Charter Change was gone. I sight to the question that I’ve been thinking that time.
2008, a House Concurrent Resolution, supported by a Senate resolution from the senate, came into news. This resolution proposed another charter change.
Now for the last four years, four different attempts for Charter Change were done. I’ve been thinking about it until recently. I am ought to do a term paper. At first I was aiming to focus on the past attempt for Charter Change. But my professor gave me first-hand hint. First is that the issue must be recent. Second is that the issue must be bound from my interest.
The topic that my professor gave to me gives me back the sight of finding why the issue regarding Charter Change is still alive in the Philippines.
I came out with the topic aiming to define why the issue of charter change is still alive in the Philippines, what are the positive and negative effects imposed by the pros and cons, what is charter change itself, what are the reasons why charter change was pushed and why charter change was prevented and how did the past administrations attempted to do Charter Change.
Charter Change is the series of political actions and processes involved in changing or amending our current constitution, which is the 1987 Constitution. The constitution defines Charter Change as well. According to the constitution, there are three modes in which Charter Change can happen.
The first mode is the People Initiative (PI). The constitution defines this mode, under Article XVII, Section 2, as the direct proposal of a group of people through an initiative with an approval of 12% of the total population of registered voters, in which every legislative district represented by at least 3 per centum of the registered voters. The initiative (proposed amendment and revision of the constitution) will be only valid if the majority of the Filipinos agree in its ratification.
The second mode is the Constituent Assembly, known as Con-Ass. According to the constitution, the joint bicameral congress, which is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives, convenes to propose amendments and revision to the current constitution. But the assembly should be approved by the Senate and the Congress separately. The proposal will be approved with three-fourths of the total votes.
The third mode is the Constitutional Convention (Con-Con). Con-Con is a gathering of people, elected or appointed, aiming to change or replace the current constitution. The Con-Con is called if the majority of the House of Representatives and the majority of the Senate voted in favor of it. The revised or the new constitution will be only approved if the majority of the people are in favor of it through vote.
For twenty-three years after the 1987 Constitution was drafted, attempts of Cha-Cha are overflowing. The recent one being the proposed Constituent Assembly by Former House Speaker Prospero Nograles and Former Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. through Senate Resolution no.10, backed by House Concurrent Resolution no.15 and sixteen senators. This Con-Ass aims to transform Philippine government from a centralized type to a federal type, meaning a part of the sovereignty will be distributed to local bodies, weakening the power of the central government. According to Pimentel and that time President Arroyo, this would solve the crisis in Mindanao. The proposed Con-Ass or maybe a Con-Con aims to transform Philippines from a 76 province country to an 11 state one. It received criticisms and it was never resolved since the 2010 Elections happened. Pimentel and Nograles are out of the running, so the proposal died out.
Why do issues of Charter Change come up and down in Philippine politics always? Why do Charter Change always come to life then die? Why was Charter Change perceived as either good or bad? Maybe history can explain. So I started looking back in history.
How Charter Change was pushed by past administrations
Back then, the term “Charter Change” was still not coined yet. When the 1935
Constitution was still ruling the Philippines, the modes that Cha-Cha defined were perceived separately. Minor attempts and revision were made since 1946.
The climax of the history of charter change happens in the 1970s, when successful attempts were made during the time of the late President Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos was the first one to be reelected successfully. According to the constitution that time, a president shall not serve for more than eight years. At 1971, he was already six years in office with only two to go. He wanted his wife Imelda to succeed him but she showed poor in the polls. He was running out of choices, so he called for a Constitutional Convention.
The proposed convention aimed to change the Philippine Government from a Presidential Type of government to a Parliamentary type of Government. The House of Representatives’ approval was won by landslide but the Senate’s approval was won by a very small margin.
One of those who opposed it was Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., which people think will be the succeeding president. But he and his party’s opposition were squared out by the Nacionalistas.
A Constitutional Convention was called, the members were elected and they elected former president Carlos P. Garcia as the president of the convention, but Garcia died suddenly, so former president Diosdado Macapagal replaced him. Things went well accordingly but some representatives in the convention doubted it.
But an expose changed the flow of the convention. The expose, released by Antonio Quintero, said that the Palace was bribing representatives to do their jobs according to their will. The government accused Quintero being bribed by the opposition. The National Bureau of Investigation investigated this event. The representatives had no choice, it is either they vote yes or to be found that they were bribed, but a resolution was proposed. The resolution says that no incumbent president or his spouse shall be elected in power. The resolution was approved and the new Constitution was drafted. Before the constitution was ratified, in 1972, President Marcos, declared martial law and some representative and certain legislators were put in jail. Those representatives and legislators that remain were given a draft of a constitution by Marcos and they had approved it. The new constitution, being also approved by majority of the people represented by barangay councils, was ratified in January 1973.
The Philippines now have a Parliamentary Type of Government without a parliament. In the 1976, another amendment was approved again by the Citizen Assembly. The amendment says that a parliament – named the Interim Batasang Pambansa – will be convened (which was in 1978) and the president – which is Marcos – will possess legislative powers, becoming the prime minister, before the parliament was convened. Just before the Batasan convenes, another amendment was approved. It says that the Prime Minister can dissolve the Parliament but the parliament cannot dissolve him, which is through a vote of no confidence, and if the parliament cannot do its job properly, the Prime Minister can also legislate.
In 1980, another amendment was made. That amendment extends the retirement age of members of the Judiciary. In 1981, another amendment was made. The amendment gives power to the president and the president shall now be elected by popular vote. Marcos won the 1981 Presidential elections. Marcos, at that time, was both a president, elected by popular vote, and a prime minister, which cannot be dissolved by the parliament. At the same year, martial law was lifted. In 1984, the final amendment of the constitution was done. That amendment restores the position of Vice-President and abolishes the executive committee.
In 1986, Marcos was toppled from power and the 1973 Constitution was replaced by a “Freedom Constitution”. A constitutional committee was formed by President Corazon Aquino. The constitution the committee made was approved in 1986 and ratified in 1987.
After the term of Pres. Aquino, attempts were made to amend the Constitution of 1987. The spirit of the Amendment of the Constitution came back to life in the name of Charter Change.
The issue heightened in 1997, when the presidential elections came near. Vice-President Joseph Estrada showed great in the polls. According to some analysts, Estrada’s popularity upon the masses may be a disadvantage to the rich and the middle class. In September 1997, a People’s Initiative was filled by PIRMA or People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action. The initiative received many criticisms and mass protests, the most significant being the rally organized by the church in Rizal Park. The initiative was narrowly dismissed in the Supreme Court under Andres Narvasa. The election took place and Estrada was elected president.
Under Estrada, a similar attempt was made, but it is different from Charter Change. It was named CONCORD or the Constitutional Correction for Development. It aimed to change some economic policies. But the CONCORD received many criticisms just like PIRMA. After the EDSA Revolution 2, Estrada was ousted from power and Vice President Arroyo took the presidency. Coincidentally, CONCORD retired at the same year as the plane Concord retired.
But the flame of Charter Change isn’t dying out yet. As Arroyo took her second term as president, a Consultative Commission was created by the virtue of Executive Order No.453. After a year, the commission proposed 2 things: one is the shift to a unicameral parliamentary-federal type of government and two is the liberalization of the economy. The proposal received criticisms from certain groups, mainly the famous Makati Business Club.
The proposals were campaigned by the Sigaw ng Bayan group and ULAP. The groups aimed to impose those proposals through the People Initiative mode of Charter Change. In 2006, the Supreme Court dismissed the Initiative but a narrow 8-7 voting margin.
A month after the Sigaw ng Bayan’s People’s Initiative was dismissed, another attempt for Charter Change was made. That time House Speaker Jose de Venecia proposed a Charter Change on the mode of Constituent Assembly. Rallies of those who oppose it came across the nation. De Venecia quitted pushing Con-Ass and now had proposing Constitutional Convention. According to him, the elections of the delegates of the convention will be held at the same time as the incoming 2007 National Elections. The proposal had never continued since De Venecia was ousted on his House Speakership at that time.
The issue now came to life again in May 2008, when House Concurrent Resolution no.15, which is supported by Senate Resolution no.10, was filed by Rep. Ortega. Then again, due to widespread protest and countless amounts of accusations, the Supreme Court judged these resolutions as unconstitutional. In these many attempts, none of them succeed, but they still kept pushing it. That leads to an ominous question: “Why was Charter Change pushed?”
Why was Charter Change pushed?
Why? Why would they favor a change to a parliamentary system of government? What are the advantages of the parliamentary system compared to the current presidential system in the Philippines?
According to some books, especially the book “Politics” by Andrew Heywood, a parliamentary system of government is the fusion of the executive and the legislative branch of government. The best example of the parliamentary system of government is the Westminster Model of Parliament in England.
In this a parliamentary system, governments are formed on the elections of the assembly, the executive head is not elected by the people but by assemblymen. People in government are drawn from the assembly. It is mainly majoritarian unlike in the presidential system.
The government or the executive branch is felt responsible to the assembly. If that government fails what the assembly demands, the assembly can ask for its replacement. Besides the Prime Minister, which is the head of the parliament, there was another separate head of state, which is ceremonial, with exceptions on some countries.
Unlike the British bicameral parliament, the proposed Parliament is a unicameral one. The executive branch roots from the legislative branch. After the elections took place and members of the parliament were elected, they will vote for the Executive Head, which is the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will now appoint members of his cabinet.
In this system of government, the executive head acquires his own mandate from his party mates and from the people in general elections.
This system of government delivers a responsible and effective government (the two can contradict each other). The government becomes effective because it governs as long as it lies on the confidence of the assembly.
In the parliamentary type of government, the power rests upon the legislative branch, with the executive branch at its heels.
The condition of the Philippine politics in President Arroyo’s term was unstable. The upper house- the Senate- and the lower house- House of Representatives- are at times opposing each other and some times, the legislative branch and the executive branch are the ones opposing each other.
The fusion of the upper house and the lower house and the fusion of the legislative and the executive branch may result to a more effective government. Since both the branches are cooperating with one another.
And if the head of state is not directly elected, then real leaders will emerge. Consider what happened to Raul Roco in the 2004 Presidential Elections. At the first months of campaign, Roco was number 1 in the polls, but what happened to him, his campaign budget was not enough even though there were many supporters of him. The high cost of a national election is the source of all evil. Cha-Cha will lead to the abolishment of the national elections.
People elect members of the parliament because they trust them. Then the members of the parliament elect their head of state because they trust him to that position.
The head of the consultative commission, Jose Abueva wrote in his report on Federalism that federalism will solve the uprisings in Mindanao. Peace will be obtained even in a multicultural country like the Philippines. Federal government will tend to achieve national unity, democratization and decentralization.
The parliamentary type of government is surely applicable due to the positive effects and changes that those who propose it see, especially in our country. We are talking the positive things. There is no perfect good or perfect bad, so when there are good, there are some bad too. The brighter it seems, the darker it can be. So what are the negative effects that those people who oppose it see?
Why are some people against it?
If there are ones who propose it, there are ones who oppose Charter change. What are the negative effects seen by the opposition?
People prefer to stay in tradition. They prefer presidential system over the parliamentary system because the presidential system is already proven in the Philippines in many ways.
In the presidential system, the fixed term of office of the president gives executive stability. The executive branch takes the blame for every decision being taken. It is easier for the people to punish the president since he was voted directly be them.
In choosing the cabinet members, the president is ought to choose what he thinks the best for that position. These persons with integrity will do their best in their jobs. Unlike those in the parliamentary system, a cabinet member’s service can be half-hearted because he has other worries in his legislative position.
In the presidential system, political defection rarely happens. In the parliamentary system, it becomes it’s common trait. Making political life clean is the common thing that the parliamentary system hasn’t.
Some people prefer to stand against it because the parliamentary system, to them, gives negative effects.
In the parliamentary system, the government is accountable, as the responsibility is taken by the whole cabinet and not a single figure. It is difficult for electors to establish who was at the fault here. They often make wrong judgments that often result to the misinterpretation of the government performance.
Parliamentary systems are often classified with shifting coalitions. Disciplined parties are rarely seen. And government tends to be weak and unstable leading to the misleading of public policies.
It is unfair in some parliamentary governments to have a barely-the-majority wins all the power. Barely-the-majority means that the population of the majority is just slightly over the minority.
Lastly, greatest weakness of the parliamentary system is the lack of transparency. There are no “real” checks in power at all since the executive came from the legislative. The worst of all is the tyranny of barely-the-majority which is really unfair compare to others.
Another thing, federalism, what are disadvantages of federalism? In the federalism government, it promotes unity in exchange to cooperation. Federalism will further diverse the people. The social capital will decrease as parochial political culture emerges over the other two political cultures.
Charter Change is change. Change will mean reform. Reform causes resources. In the transition, it will consume lots of resources.
One critical point was drawn. Political parties are not disciplined enough here in the Philippines. If a parliamentary system replaces the presidential one then it will take turn for worse.
In politics, there is no definitely true answer. Answers should be presumably true. That is the reason why Charter Change is perceived either good or bad.
It is seen as good because the parliamentary and federal system of government gives advantages such as the efficiency and effectiveness of government. It can eliminate government gridlocks that slows Philippine’s development.
It is also seen as bad because the parliamentary and the federal system of government lacks transparency compared to the presidential system and responsibility since it is always the political party who takes the blame and because sovereignty is divided further down.
The parliamentary system has its own advantages and disadvantages. The presidential system has its own too. It was just like on the comparison of the centralized and federal system.
What makes Charter Change controversial is that it was once used once to perpetuate power and to prolong the terms in office, as shown by President Marcos in the past. Since Pres.Arroyo’s term is about to end, others may thought that her move towards Charter Change is her move to perpetuate and prolong her power but others may thought that her move was on found the after finding the solution in the past 9 years in her presidency.
Now, the son of a senator who had once mainly opposed Charter Change, even his life was on the line, was elected the president. The President of the Republic of the Philippines, Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III gives the Filipino people a new hope for a responsible, transparent, efficient and effective, unified government. And when that time comes, it is up to the Filipino people if they are going to need Charter Change anymore.