Getting another crack at Charter change

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    ‘With more and more legal, legislative, and economic minds joining the discussion, President Duterte clearly succeeded in shifting the focus of national narrative to Charter change.’

    THE Duterte government is treading the road taken by all administrations after Cory Aquino: Charter change. Fidel Ramos tried it but failed, following strong opposition from the Catholic Church and rowdy protesters. Joseph “Erap” Estrada had his unlamented “Con Cord” which is just another version of constitutional amendments. After him, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III also tried to revise the Charter probably to extend their terms, too, but to no avail. The business sector was divided over Arroyo’s proposals. And now, Duterte, trying his hand at again tweaking the 1987 Constitution.

    Sen. Franklin Drilon who — according to Rep. Alfredo Garbin — reportedly wrote an article in the Ateneo Law Journal in 1988 saying that you do not need the Senate to constitute an operational constituent assembly, has now taken up the cause with Sen. Panfilo Lacson about separate voting between the two chambers of Congress in case of Charter amendments. Garbin is chairman of the House panel on constitutional amendments, and has the backing of the panel’s former chairman, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, in processing and fast-tracking the Resolution of Both Houses seeking to change the Charter’s economic provisions, filed by the Speaker himself, Rep. Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque.

    In the Senate, meanwhile, the resolution for Congress to convene a constituent assembly was filed by Duterte friends Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino and Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa on Dec. 7. This resolution affirms that Charter changes would be “limited to provisions on democratic representation and the economic provisions of the Constitution.” These general statement of the Tolentino-Dela Rosa resolution will need further explanation from the two proponents, but it is enough to trigger torrents of discussion in the higher chamber, mostly about the timing of reviving the issue.

    In the House, the most vehement objection came from Rep. Edcel Lagman, who said: “Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 proposing amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution provides for a mongrelized process because it effectively authorizes the Congress to make amendments by legislation in violation of the limited amendatory procedure prescribed in Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution.

    Lagman said inserting the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the Charter’s economic provision, is an “infirm or pseudo proposal” because it gives Congress the “real power to amend’ instead of allowing a constituent assembly, constitutional convention or people’s initiative to do it.

    In his rebuttal, Garbin pointed out that the current Charter already contains provisions with the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law.” “In those instances, the authority to provide the details or change the conditions was entrusted to Congress. There is no reason why people cannot choose to do so again in the specific instances enumerated in Resolution of Both Houses 2,” Garbin said.

    As the debate on Cha-cha continues in Congress, it is well to note that the nation’s economic experts have noted that flaws in the Cory-inspired Constitution are backing to make the Philippines “more foreign investment-friendly” to jump-start the nation’s recovery efforts in the wake of the devastation and stagnation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director general Ernesto Pernia said it is the “right time” to do away with provisions that limit foreign direct investments, a view shared by Gerardo Sicat and Raul Fabella. They said this move should push the nation to greater economic heights, and not lag behind its neighbors Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Gary Olivar stressed that the main point of constitutional reforms is to make the country more attractive in FDIs that would help propel sustained economic expansion.

    With more and more legal, legislative, and economic minds joining the discussion, President Duterte clearly succeeded in shifting the focus of national narrative to Charter change. Whether he can push this to fruition is another matter.