The Ghost of Chacha Past

Not a few were surprised when the brouhaha about the Bangsamoro juridical entity and the widespread violence that followed its postponed implentation (or will it be eventually be canceled?) took a strange and surprising turn when politicians again resurrected talks of amending the 1987 constitution.

This would now be the Nth time that an attempt for charter change is made.  Notorious attempts to push for it in the first started in 1997 when then President Ramos and his loyalists pushed for a people’s initiative.  But it was not successful due to widespread opposition, particularly from the Catholic Church as spearheaded by then Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin and personalities like Former President Corazon Aquino.  Charter change quickly suffered the same fate in 1999 when then President Joseph Estrada himself pushed for chacha through his CONCORD or Constitutional Correction for Development.

President Arroyo and her allies have been desperately pushed for it.  It was in her an integral part of her platform when she ran for election in 2004.  She pushed for it more vigorously after the Hello Garci scandal in 2005 — supposedly as a resolution to that scandal.  Both people’s initiative and constituent assembly were explored.  But at the last minute, the President and then Speaker Jose De Venecia backed out when the Church again spearheaded protests in December 2006.  There were also threats that the Church would call on the public not to vote politicians who were seeking reelection in 2007.  This most recent attempt also did not prosper because the opposition-dominated Senate refused to participate in a constituent assembly.

Now, following the so-far failed creation of the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, talks of chacha are back.  But for once, the call is not from the Palace, but from Senators who generally opposed charter change in the 13th Congress.  This new campaign is being spearheaded by Senator Aquilino Pimentel.  As father of the local government code, Pimentel has also always been known as a staunch advocate of federalism.

He has also made it very, very clear that any attempts to extend the term of the President would have to go over his dead body.  We’ll see about that.

Compared to other past chacha campaigns for chacha, this one may have just a little more credibility because it is being spearheaded by personalities not at all sympathetic to the Palace.  Nevertheless this shouldn’t automatically mean that they are not free from any political interests or ulterior motives.  Many sectors are still on their way to push the alarm, after Malacanang has joined Pimentel’s bandwagon.  However, like before, it has denied scheming to extend the President’s term, which would also extend her immunity from suit after she steps down in 2010.  But as many anti-Gloria would counter, what can we expect from a President who has been known to renege on her word?

But will charter change finally be a reality this time around?

First, one would again need to consider the methodology to be used.   Pimentel is pushing for a constituent assembly, where Senators and Representatives would act do the actual amendments. This brings us back to the debates of 2006.  The constitution states that three-fourths (3/4) of Congress is needed to call for a constituent assembly.  But what has not been resolved up to now by the Supreme Court is whether the 3/4 involves the Senate plus the House of Representatives combined.  Or whether the 3/4 is computed separately.  All together, the question is whether both houses of congress vote separately or only as one body.

As it has been pointed out, to count both houses only as one would be disadvantageous for the Senate.  If this were the scenario, then what would now stop the overwhelming force of pro-Arroyos in the lower house from having their way without much of a check and balance from the opposition?

But again, what is different now is that the attempt to amend the constitution is spearheaded by an opposition figure.  If both houses finally agree to voting separately on the amendements, then they may be in business.  And if there is a foolproof to limit amendments to federalism, then they are in business.

A source of apprehension for many sectors in 2006 were the drafts of the amended constitution, which were deliberated in the lower house and contained many sensitive amendments.  First was the creation of  a parliamentary system of government.  There was again the lifting term limits on public officials.  The draft allowed foreigners ownership of utilities.  The drafts of former Representatives Prospero Pichay and Constantino Jaraula also contained provisions limiting the powers of the Supreme Court.

There are still two other methods to consider for chacha.  A constitutional convention would be (too) costly and time consuming for it involves electing delegates to the convention.  A People’s Intitiave would still need an enabling law from Congress to be possible.

But is there time for chacha now, since again, there is a rush to push for chacha before Arroyo’s term ends in 2010?

And when is it really the best time for chacha?  Many politicians like Former President Fidel Ramos would point to after Arroyo steps down.  But what is stopping anyone from blocking the next president’s plans after 2010, for fear yet again that such moves would be for personal political interests?

To simplify all argument let me say this — perhaps like in the past, our Church leaders here in the Philippines would again shed light on when chacha should push through, or if it should push through.  Now, whether this is good or bad depends on who you will ask.

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