MANILA, Philippines – The push for change, in one way or another, has always been a staple among Philippine presidents.
From the campaign trail until being seated into the highest seat in the Executive, these leaders promise change or reforms. Education reform, fighting corruption, and curbing crimes and proliferation of illegal drugs – think of any change close to the heart of ordinary Filipinos, reform has been promised by one or even a couple of presidents as they get elected into office.
Recent presidents even promise to change the Philippine Constitution itself. However, this narrative seems to not be a successful one for past leaders. And yet, the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte took this promise of reform, banking on his popularity and supermajority in the House of Representatives.
Citing data from Institute of Political and Electoral Reform and other scholars and sources, the John J. Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues (JJCICSI) summarized the attempts at changing the Charter from the time of former President Corazon C. Aquino up to the term of his son, former President Benigno Aquino III.
Attempts by previous administrations for charter change
Corazon C. Aquino (1986-1992)
“After the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, Aquino created a Constitutional Commission with 48 members to propose a post-dictatorship constitution. Ratified overwhelmingly on February 2, 1987 through a national plebiscite, the new Constitution stressed the importance of human rights and popular participation in governance (IPER 2004, 14). It also incorporated safeguards for freedom and democracy, among them strict requirements for the declaration of Martial Law.”
Fidel V. Ramos (1992-1998)
“Ramos, the first president to be elected under the 1987 Constitution, attempted to change the Constitution twice – first in 1995 and second in 1997. Civil society groups perceived the move as a ploy to allow him to seek a second term (IPER 2004, 15).”
Joseph E. Estrada (1998-2001)
“Estrada created a commission to study the possibility of amending the economic and judiciary provisions of the Constitution. The commission ceased its work after civil society organizations opposed its proposal to allow foreign entities to own prime lands in the country (IPER 2004, 16)”
Gloria M. Arroyo (2001-2010)
“Allies of Arroyo in Congress proposed a shift to a unitary parliamentary system and other political reforms to be introduced by a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass). Civil society groups opposed the preferred mode of changing the Constitution because it left the crafting of the new charter to politicians who might build their own interests into its provisions (IPER 2004, 12).”
Benigno S. Aquino III (2010-2016)
“Aquino initially disapproved of constitutional change but eventually became open to it to limit the judiciary’s power in relation to the executive and legislative branches of government, and to continue reforms by allowing the incumbent president to run for a second term (Ubac and Bordadora, 2013; Calonzo 2014; Gutierrez 2014).”
In a report published by Rappler, UP College of Law professor Atty. Dante Gatmaytan said that the cynicism or doubt when it comes to charter change attempts can be rooted back from the time of former President Ferdinand E. Marcos: “Our skepticism is rooted in the Marcos era where the dictator used constitutional change to duck term limits. Since the trust was betrayed, politicians have not earned our respect.”
In the same report, retired Supreme Court Justice Vicente Mendoza presented a more upfront reason: “The reason the many attempts of Congress or groups to change the 1987 Constitution failed is not by reason of intrinsic merit. It is because the attempts were viewed as nothing but veiled attempts to extend the term of office of the President.
Duterte and PDP-Laban’s Change in the Charter and Shift to Federalism
Yet, despite the unsuccessful attempts of his predecessors, Pres. Duterte and his party, the PDP-Laban, are pushing for the shift to federalism and overhaul of the charter.
JJCICSI broke down the 2017 PDP-Laban draft of a federal constitution and pointed out the following gaps and changes in the provisions, as well as adaptation of old provisions and improvements:
“The PDP-Laban draft federal constitution does not guarantee the “humane conditions of work and a living wage” enshrined in the 1987 Constitution. Instead , it proposes “freedom from discrimination on matters of employment tenure, working conditions, and wage levels.” A footnote says that “sections on labor are better left to Parliament” (PDP-Laban 2017, 59).”
On Agrarian and Natural Resources Reform
“The PDP-Laban draft federal constitution conspicuously lacks provisions for agrarian reform or support for its beneficiaries. It also lacks provisions for protecting the rights of farmers, fishers, and indigenous peoples, the sectors whose poverty rates are highest in the country. A footnote says that “sections on agrarian reform and natural resources are better left to Parliament” (PDP-Laban 2017, 59).”
On Urban Land Reform and Housing
“The PDP-Laban draft federal constitution still recognizes the need for affordable housing, but only for “homeless citizens.” It omits the rights of underprivileged Filipinos to social housing that is decent, not just affordable. It does away with the stipulation that demolition be done in a “just and humane manner.” A footnote says that “sections on urban land reform and housing are better left to the Parliament” (PDP-Laban 2017, 60).”
“In the PDP-Laban draft federal constitution, “the federal and regional governments shall adopt an integrated and a universal health care program.” It also has good provisions on health, proposing “free medical care to indigents and those living below the poverty line as defined by the law” (PDP-Laban 2017, 60).”
“The PDP-Laban draft federal constitution adopts the same provision for ensuring the improvement in the conditions of women.”
On People’s Organizations
“The PDP-Laban draft federal constitution retains without any changes or additions the 1987 Constitution’s provisions for people’s participation.”
Meanwhile, the Caucus of Development NGO Networks (CODE-NGO), the largest coalition of social development organizations in the Philippines, “is alarmed of the proposals peddled at the House of Representatives through the Resolution of Both Houses No. 8 and draft Salient Provisions of the Federal Government of the Philippines by the Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments.” According to the organization, “[t]hese provisions appear to undermine democracy, human rights, and social justice provisions of the 1987 Constitution, with the following proposals, among others:
- Giving oversight powers to the President over all of government – legislative-executive, judiciary, constitutional bodies, independent bodies and all agencies, practically institutionalizing an authoritarian rule;
- Giving overwhelming appointive powers to the President, with no clear check and balancing roles for the Judicial Bar Council in the appointment of Supreme Court Justices and for the Committee on Appointments for the appointment of heads of agencies and constitutional bodies;
- No mention of social justice and human rights provisions nor the important role of the Commission on Human Rights; and,
- Providing exemptions to the protectionist economic provisions, which practically opens up our economy to foreign ownership, including ownership of lands, exploration of natural resources, governance , and management of public utilities and ownership and management of educational institutions.”
CODE-NGO, in the same statement, also declared their “opposition to the initiatives of the current administration to change the Constitution.”
“We reiterate our consistent stand that any amendment or change in the fundamental law of the land should be undertaken through an objective, deliberate, and participatory process with the citizens; particularly to protect the interests of the basic sectors and marginalized groups. Thus, we are against the hasty mode by which Congress is pushing Charter Change by convening incumbent legislators into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass). This process will only extend the term of incumbent legislators and lacks transparency and participation by the people,” the coalition explained in the statement.
Earlier this week, a copy of the draft Constitution of Federal government created by the Consultative Committee of Pres. Duterte was leaked through social media, which can be viewed below. However, the draft the ConComm created is still subject to revisions by the Office of the President, which in turn will transmit the official draft constitution (with or without revisions) to the Congress.View Fullscreen
– RealTalk, July 6, 2018