Cha-cha for dummies

Article by: Marie Julienne Ente

Some sectors argue that there’s a need to amend the Constitution now. Others say that while there’s a need to amend the Constitution, it should be done in a time when the people are comfortable with our leaders. Still others simply don’t care.” – Atty. Fred Bertulfo Pamaos

Q: What is Charter Change (CHA- CHA)?

Charter change is a general term for any revision or amendment in the current Constitution. Changes include revisions, or those that upon changing a specific law, the basic principles of the whole Constitution is altered. Example is shifting from presidential to parliamentary government system. Another type of change is an amendment, or those additions, deletions or rewordings that do not necessarily alter the basic principles, like changing the legal voting age from 18 to 21, for example.

Q: How is the Constitution revised or amended?

The 1987 Constitution allows for these changes through the following processes (according to Article XVII):

1. A constituent assembly, where all members of the Congress reach a 3/4 vote in favor of a given proposal.
2. A constitutional convention, which is called upon by 2/3 of all members of the Congress. It is not explicitly stated in the Constitution how this is exercised, but one way of doing so is by majority of the Congress submitting to the electorate “the question of calling such a convention” (Section 3), something like a referendum.
3. A people’s initiative, a direct petition from the people, that must compose of at least 12 per cent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3 per cent of the registered voters there (Section 2).

All proposals regarding the changes in the Constitution are only valid if approved in a plebiscite, which must be commenced not earlier than 60 days, but not later than 90 days since the submission of the proposal. The con-ass and con-con can propose both revisions and amendments, while the PI can only propose amendments.

Q: What are the contents of House Resolution (HR) 1109?

Here it is, in a nutshell. First, there are the names of the authors and sponsors of the bill. Second, there is the recognition of the urgent need to have Charter change. Third, it argues that provisions in the revision or amendment of the Charter found in the 1935 and 1987 Constitution are different, specifically that in the current Charter, a resolution must be based on the votes of "all members of the Congress," and that the provision of two Houses voting separately has been deleted. Fourth, basically it is asking for (a formal) permission to convene in a constituent assembly. Fifth, it disallows any term extension for any incumbent politician, and that there shall be elections in 2010. Finally, it seeks to convene to scrutinize our current economic provisions.

Q: So, what does the HR 1109 want to approve exactly?

Apart from amendments in economic provisions to make the Philippines more attractive to investments and technological transfers, we don’t really know. In fact, not even Prospero Nograles and the other representatives claim to know what is to come about in the con-ass. The HR 1109 simply grants the petition to convene as a Constituent Assembly. No specific amendments are cited in the HR 1109 itself.

Q: Why is it OK if the con-ass convenes sans the Senate?

Technically, it isn’t, since the constitution defines the Congress as composed both of the House of Representatives and the Senate – not and/or.

Having only 23 senators and 270 representatives, a joint vote would not be swayed much by even a unanimous senatorial vote, unless the division inside the House itself is fierce. Whereas if the provisions in the 1935 Constitution are to be followed, with each House voting separately, the amendment must be approved by 3/4 of the Senate and 3/4 of the House before it is forwarded to the plebiscite. Whichever of the case applies must first be officially clarified before convening the con-ass, but in both cases, it would be unconstitutional to disregard the role of the Senate.

Q: Is Nograles’ Cha-Cha and the House of Representatives’ call for a con-ass in any way illegal?

If it pushes through Senate-less, especially without consultation with the Supreme Court, yes. But if the answer is based on the proceedings approving the HR 1109, and the text found in the HR 1109, the call to convene in a Constituent Assembly to amend or revise the Constitution is, yes, legal. Particularly interested, questionably hurried, covert and partisan – yes, but legal. Fortunately or unfortunately? Go figure.

Q: Are term extensions for the current incumbent politicians possible?

If the HR 1109 is sincerely drafted and vehemently followed, then the answer is no, because there is a clause that does not permit such. HR 1109 states, “the term of office of the incumbent President and Vice-President shall not be extended." It also says that the terms of senators, congressmen, governors, mayors and other elected officials whose terms will expire next year will also not be extended and that elections will be held. It said the term of the 12 senators whose terms shall end in 2010 "shall not be shortened and they shall be allowed to finish their terms." However, these are conditions that are only with regard to calling the Congress to convene as a Constitutional Assembly. The changes in the Charter that con-ass will propose are still left to our imaginations.

Q: Are we going to shift to a different form of government once the ChaCha pushes through?

There have been no official proposals laid out for this yet, but it is highly probable that it would be considered in the Constituent Assembly, especially with the desire to change the form of government into a unicameral parliamentary expressed as far back as the Ramos administration. Nograles may also be suggesting that the con-ass could propose a change in government type when he called Senator Aquilino Pimentel's Joint Resolution 10 as the "same banana" with con-ass, but that resolution was espousing for federalism, not particularly parliamentarism.

If the earlier Nograles’ HR 737 – which is claimed to be what the HR 1109 is an alternative to – is our basis, then the main issue at hand for the con-ass are economic provisions. 737 proposes to allow foreigners 100% land ownership, and that 100% foreign-owned businesses are permitted to explore our land and its natural resources.

Q: …So what? Do I really have to care?

Of course! All the hoopla is based on the higher-ups’ (both the administration and the opposition) assumption that we don’t care about the law, and that we are stupid not to figure out that all along they have been bypassing laws AND/OR misinforming us about the actions of the other party. The best shield against all this is to energize your enthusiasm to be informed and hopefully later on, to participate. ▪

The 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines | | | | |