The Philippine House of Representatives is on track to pass a resolution this month calling for a constitutional convention to amend the 1987 Constitution.
At least 11 bills and resolutions relating to charter change were filed since July of last year, the same month when Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumed the presidency. These measures were consolidated and a consensus was reached among the proponents that the mode of changing the constitution will be through a constitutional convention.
If passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by Marcos, district delegates of the convention will be elected on October 30 this year, the same date as the barangay (village) and youth council elections. The Senate president and House speaker will also appoint sectoral delegates. The convention will run for seven months until June 30, 2024.
Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, principal author of the measure, noted that the so-called hybrid constitutional convention option is “highly favored being the most democratic, transparent, and inclusive of all modes.”
“The election of delegates and the appointment of experts and sectoral representatives, along with constitutionalists and experts will ensure the balance of views and the quality of the proposals of the convention,” he added.
He also clarified that only economic provisions of the constitution will be discussed during the convention. Specifically, legislators are aiming to amend the provisions which impose restrictions on foreigners from owning land, properties, public utilities, and businesses in the country.
After marathon hearings and consultations were conducted over the past few months, the House tabled the measure in the plenary for approval this month.
Asked by the media about the Congress initiative, President Marcos said that charter change is not his priority since there are more urgent matters that need the attention of the government. He also said that foreign investments can be enhanced within the framework of the 1987 Constitution.
This point was echoed by Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel, who cited several new laws such as the Public Service Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Foreign Investment Act, which allow a greater role for foreigners in the local economy.
Pimentel is a known advocate of federalism but he reminded fellow legislators that “the long-standing proposal to reform the country’s political system can wait in favor of more pressing issues.”
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who is also a member of the minority, cautioned proponents of charter change to review their claims.
“We should do away with this long-standing tale of make-believe that charter change will solve all our problems,” she said in a statement.
She is concerned about “redirecting large amounts of limited resources to charter change” when there is surging inflation and a food crisis.
Makabayan, the leftist bloc in the House, is expected to challenge the charter change measure in the plenary. It warned that the convention has the power to amend the entire constitution, including the removal of term limits for elected officials. It asserted that the victory of Marcos in the 2022 election “does not equate to a go signal from the people to push through with a self-serving measure.”
In an editorial, the Philippine Daily Inquirer explained why previous charter change proposals were widely opposed by the public.
“Persistent moves to amend the Charter over the years have failed because, stripped of the sugarcoating, these are revealed to be nothing but naked ambition among politicians to perpetuate themselves and their families in power.”
It asked if the plan to pursue charter change today is “part of a bigger family redemption project” since there are several constitutional provisions that mention the country’s experience during the brutal Martial Law years under the Marcos dictatorship. The 1987 Constitution was drafted months after the downfall of the Marcos family through the 1986 People Power Revolution.
It is not enough that charter change proponents have the numbers in Congress, because a divisive measure like this can quickly galvanize popular opposition. Previous administrations have also the support of the majority in Congress, but they failed to amend the constitution because of strong public resistance. Perhaps legislators today are encouraged by the high trust ratings of Marcos, but can the government risk losing support if people will start protesting against politicians prioritizing charter change instead of curbing hunger and joblessness?