Here we go again

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    ‘But we all know what the bottom line is. These gentlemen and ladies want to attack what they don’t want to admit: term limits.’

    IT has finally happened: the House of Representatives, under Speaker Lord, is pushing for Charter Change (aka Cha-Cha) so close to the filing of certificates of candidacies (end 2021) and national elections (May 2022).

    And no one really has been taken by surprise. Almost every president since 1986, except the Aquinos and Erap, has encouraged in one form or another attempts by allies to change the 1987 Constitution. Their justifications are usually the same – the 1987 Constitution was too “reactive” to the Marcos years (somewhat true) resulting in some provisions that need to be changed like the “restrictive” economic ones (somewhat true) that impede our economic growth (not necessarily). This year, there is a twist: Speaker Lord is saying that the need to amend the economic provisions is made urgent because we need to entice more foreign investments to help boost the economic recovery post-COVID.

    Really good reasoning, if you take these folks at face value.

    But we all know what the bottom line is. These gentlemen and ladies want to attack what they don’t want to admit: term limits. Especially that of the President who is limited to six years no matter how good or bad he (or she) is. And the way to get rid of term limits is to remove the provision outright – which will smack too much of self interest and may turn off the public; or by proposing a shift in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary, or from a more centralized structure to a more federal one.

    This was attempted during the waning months of FVR’s term, when allies tried to launch “PIRMA” as a “people’s initiative.” The effort fell flat on its face when Cory Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin spoke out against it.

    Nothing was done about Charter Change during the Erap years, maybe because Erap was in office for too short a time. But his successor, Gloria Arroyo, like Ramos, also appeared to encourage Cha-Cha, mainly around the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. Under the latter, the usually independent-minded Senate gets eliminated, while a Prime Minister can effectively rule for life, or until someone “more generous” appears on the political horizon. Efforts also failed in part because scandals (electoral, personal and even “transactional”) had sullied GMA’s otherwise capable image that it became difficult to amass enough warm bodies to create a bandwagon effect behind the Cha-Cha idea. And yes, again, Cory Aquino played an important part in blocking the effort.

    This time around there is no Cory Aquino to stand in the way of legislators pushing for Charter Change. But maybe the people will stand up and take her place?

    Years ago, when I was a student at the UP College of Law I actually participated in a televised debate on the then-proposed Constitution. Our UP law team was actually against the ratification of the charter, citing some of the very reasons that the advocates for Cha-Cha cite today.

    Nearly 35 years later, however, I can not in my right mind embrace the effort of Speaker Lord to rewrite the Constitution, not because it does not deserve a revisit, but because neither the Speaker nor his colleagues are the proper party to do so.

    More important, I do think what we actually need to do is not to amend the Charter as yet, but to get our citizenry educated about the Constitution and everything that flows from it: constitutionalism, the Bill of Rights and the rule of law, checks and balance, representative government, public service being a public trust and so on. Wouldn’t Speaker Lord wish to focus on these first?

    Forcing Cha-Cha before we do all these is like having dentist put a filling in a tooth without checking to make sure the foundations of the tooth remain healthy and strong. (Sorry for this analogy; I just saw my dentist Dr. Jill Chua-Paca recently). Imagine a tooth with a fresh layer of filling – only to be rotting inside?

    That’s us, if this Cha-Cha effort gets traction. But if you believe as I do that we must go back to the basics first, then you know what to do. (Or so I hope!)

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