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COMMENTARY

Ominous sign on Charter change

05:05 AM May 08, 2018

The latest Pulse Asia survey on Charter change does not bode well for the administration’s plan to adopt a federal system of government for the country before President Duterte’s term ends in 2022.

The poll showed that 66 percent of Filipinos are opposed to changing the present form of government, while 64 percent believe this is not the time to change the Constitution.

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These findings, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, indicate that a lot of work still has to be done by the government to inform and educate the public on the proposed constitutional reforms. But former chief justice Reynato Puno, who chairs the Constitutional Commission formed by Mr. Duterte to recommend constitutional changes, expressed confidence that these ratings will change after the Con-com has completed its work and the public has read its report.

The negative reaction to Charter change has historical precedent. The presidents that came after Corazon Aquino (except Benigno Aquino III) attempted—but failed—to gain public approval of their plans to amend the Constitution.

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The propaganda machines of those administrations accomplished little to minimize public protests over the planned constitutional amendments. Worse, the legal maneuvers taken to accomplish this objective were either declared unconstitutional or fell short of the Charter’s requirements on effecting amendments.

President Fidel V. Ramos’ scheme to amend the Constitution through a “people’s initiative” (or signature campaign) was rebuffed by the Supreme Court on the ground that there was no law that spelled out the parameters of that mode of amendment. A similar approach taken by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo suffered the same fate due to procedural defects in the manner the proposed amendments were sought to be submitted to the public for approval.

Considering Mr. Duterte’s high approval and trust ratings, it is reasonable to expect that his campaign promise to revert to a federal system of government would be favorably received by the public, or by at least the 39 percent of the electorate who voted him to office.

The survey results on opposition to Charter change cannot be simply attributed to the inadequacy of the administration’s campaign to sell the idea of federalism to the public.

If news reports are to be believed, the President’s political party has (and continues to) aggressively promote the federalism issue among its members and even imposed belief in it as one of the conditions for membership. It even sent some of its key officers to countries that have federal forms of government for
observation tours, to empower them in discussing the merits of this system among their constituents.

As in past abortive Charter change attempts, the latest survey shows that most Filipinos seem to be wary or distrustful of proposals for constitutional reforms coming from people in the government.

Rightly or wrongly, the perception is that their actions are guided by self-interest, or that no matter how well-meaning the amendments may appear to be, these will in the long run redound to the benefit of their proponents and their families.

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It does not help (or even aggravates matters) that the campaign for Charter change comes at a time when the majority of Filipinos are reeling from the adverse effects of additional taxes on basic commodities, high inflation and massive unemployment. The daily wage earner cannot be faulted for questioning the administration’s fixation with constitutional changes when there are more pressing economic problems that require immediate solution.

Will changing the form of government improve living conditions or bring more food to the ordinary Filipino’s table? Will removing term limits for elected officials make them more caring for the welfare of their constituents than their own?

Unless the public’s doubts or apprehensions are assuaged, the proposed Charter changes may go the way of their predecessors in the past administrations.

[email protected]

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TAGS: charter change, Inquirer Commentary, Pulse Asia survey, Raul J. Palabrica
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