There is an immaculate and insatiable thirst for corrupt politicians and tyrants-that-be to remain in power. And while it comes as no surprise that attempts for charter change spring up regularly, the latest attempt–through the guise of a people’s initiative (PI)–could be the most malevolent machination so far.
The sinister motive of the petition being circulated is in plain sight: For the purposes of charter change, the House of Representatives and Senate would be treated as one body, and could immediately cause a plebiscite to approve amendments, whenever three-fourths or more of all its members agree. Never mind the Senate, whose membership of 24 senators pales in comparison to the House (315 representatives)—the lower chamber could easily surpass the 255-vote threshold, rendering the upper house irrelevant to the process.
A pointed word war now rages between the Senate and the House. The upper chamber is leading a probe, which revealed that social benefits for the poor were being used as bait to attract PI signatories. The same investigation also appeared to have exposed that the chief architect of the PI is no less than the president’s cousin, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.
The PI was designed to allow the people to directly propose amendments to the constitution. However, it was not intended to be an avenue for a constitutional overhaul. Only amendments—minor changes—can be proposed by PI. Revisions or major amendments to the constitution remain under the purview of Congress, voting separately. This has been affirmed by the Supreme Court in the 2006 decision Lambino v. COMELEC, saying that major constitutional revisions done through PI “will only result in gross absurdities in the Constitution.”
The core controversy under such doctrine is whether the current PI proposal is a revision or an amendment. At face value, the proposed amendment seems mundane as it only consists of 17 words: that the constitution may be amended or revised by Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members, “voting jointly, at the call of the senate president or the speaker of the House of Representatives.”
But those 17 words run counter to the constitutional design that the Filipino people, in the aftermath of the Marcos ouster, instituted. In 1987, the people overwhelmingly approved the present charter, which reverted the legislature into a two-chamber Congress, from Marcos’s unicameral Batasang Pambansa. Lawmaking power was simply too great to be placed in the hands of a single group of people.
Because there has to be some form of checks and balances, even within the legislature, the framers of the 1987 Constitution designed a Congress of two chambers: the House of Representatives elected by the people of a geographic and sectoral constituency, and a Senate which represents the entire nation. They are separate and coequal bodies, but independent of one another.
All laws need to be passed by both chambers, and this PI proposal seeks to carve out an exemption from that for changes in the country’s fundamental law. By allowing the House of Representatives to single-handedly change the constitution, the PI proposal, in effect, eviscerates bicameralism and the system of checks and balances. The PI is packaged as an “amendment” when it revises the constitution—something disallowed by the Supreme Court and the charter itself. It will make our representatives super-legislators, further fattening the already bloated powers and prerogatives they have.
Nowhere in our constitution allows a single chamber, much less a group of single-minded politicians, to summarily change the way our country works. By attempting to undermine the 1987 Constitution, the PI would go against the Filipino people's will. They may not have found it flawless, but they saw the document as their best defense against another dictatorship.
The current PI petition being circulated seeks to subvert the constitution itself. What cannot be done directly, cannot certainly be done indirectly. Because the upper house has, so far, refused consent over charter change, self-serving groups cannot shortcut that by excluding the Senate altogether in the process.
The deep-pocketed backers of this PI can no longer deny that this charter change attempt is just for easing so-called restrictive economic provisions, as if that reason is not enough already for the people’s revulsion. With the lower house packed with administration allies, giving them unfettered prerogative to alter the constitution will allow every imaginable amendment: term extensions, no-election scenarios, unrestricted economic liberalization, and the list goes on.
So far, denialism and diversions are what we’ve got from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and top Congressional leaders. No politician wants to admit backing PI, yet it is clear that they are the ones who will benefit if it passes. We must call PI for what it is: a naked power grab.
The times call for us to crush all those who seek to make our democratic values a farce. Defeating this charter change attempt is not a vindication of our imperfect constitution, but a defense of its promise for a more just, more humane, and more equal society that we have yet to accomplish. ●
Feb 10, 2024
Wala akong hangad na angkinin ang oras mo. Bakit ko naman gagawin iyon, kung sa mga kwento mo tungkol sa iyong pagkilos ay nakikita kitang masaya, nabubuhayan ng loob na magpatuloy at magpakahusay.
Feb 10, 2024
Bago maiahon ni Jimenez sa nais na katanyagan ang UP, esensyal na masigurong nakalapat muna ang kanyang pamumuno sa pagtugon sa kagyat na kahingian ng mga sektor ng pamantasan.