Path to charter change starts to take shape

By Beting Laygo Dolor, Editor

MANILA – Charter change still has a long way to go, but at least some of the roadblocks are being overcome one by one.

With President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. making clear that the minimum changes he seeks all have to do with the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, his supporters in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have begun to toe the Palace line.

Even former president Rodrigo Duterte, who was originally against cha cha, this week said he was now in favor of changing the constitution on the condition that Marcos promise not to run again.

“Do not change the Constitution if you are doing it for your own favor and you just want to extend your term,” Duterte said, addressing his successor, whose father and namesake famously extended his own term by suspending the 1936 Constitution by declaring martial law.

Marcos Jr. himself had earlier muddled the issue when he indicated that he was also open to reviewing the political provisions of the charter, but he has since gone back to his previous wish for cha cha to focus solely on the economic provisions, specifically foreign ownership of property and mass media.

The president received surprise backing from one of the framers of the ’87 charter, former Supreme Court associate justice Adolf Azcuna, who said he favored amending the economic provisions of the constitution.

Azcuna told the House committee of the whole that “economic provisions should be flexible and they should not be cast in stone, and 37 years is casting in stone. The economic provisions must be responsive to changing economic conditions.”

Azcuna added that as far as he was concerned, “we should change the provisions to make them flexible by legislation by simply adding an amendment unless otherwise provided by law.”

Azcuna’s stand, however, was rejected by retired SC chief justice Reynato Puno, who said amending the constitution by treating proposals as regular bills may pose “challenges” as it is not an official mode for charter change.

House members refer to the legislative route for cha cha as the “Bernas proposal,” after Fr. Joaquin Bernas, also a framer of the ’87 charter, who had expressed this personal interpretation after the Constitution had already been approved in a plebiscite.

Congressmen said they would follow the formula so the House would not have to wait for the Senate to finish its own deliberations. The move is intended to expedite the process.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House constitutional amendments committee, this week said, “We follow the Bernas proposal on having legislation to amend the Constitution because the Senate does not even want to meet with us.”

The means to cha cha, however, is still to be determined as the majority of senators are adamantly against working with the House as a constituent assembly.

But with people’s initiative slowly but steadily slipping to the background, amendments via legislation is becoming a likely path.

The option is to hold a plebiscite on proposed changes to the constitution, ignoring con con, con ass, or PI. This path, will have proposed changes passed by Congress being put to a vote by the people through a plebiscite.

Proponents to the cha cha plebiscite only have to agree on the date, with some preferring it be held before the 2025 midterm elections, and others leaning on having the plebiscite held at the same time as next year’s polls.

The president told senators he wants the plebiscite on amendments to the charter be held alongside the 2025 midterm polls, Senate President Miguel Zubiri said at the start of this week.

It was the second time that Mr. Marcos instructed the Senate on how lawmakers should amend the charter.

It may be noted that the Philippines hews closely to the US political system, and with the latter, amendments to the charter have taken place via legislation.

Any proposed amendment is voted on by both houses of the US Congress and a two-thirds vote is needed for the change to take effect.

Alternately, two-thirds of the states may call for a constitutional convention to propose amendments, but every amendment has been proposed by Congress and not the states.