Charter change: The multiheaded monster
Immediately after the House of Representatives hammered down the final nail in the coffin of ABS-CBN, news came out that the government will once again pursue Charter change. There have been consistent attempts to change the Constitution in all the past administrations after Cory Aquino. All these efforts failed because of either of two reasons. One, the Supreme Court invalidated the procedures that were initiated, which was the case for the Ramos and Arroyo presidencies. Two, the ruling president (Estrada) or Congress (under the Noynoy Aquino presidency) sensed the strong public opposition, so the initiatives fizzled out.
Should the people be complacent now given the consistent failed attempts? On the contrary, and because of the prevailing circumstances, people should be paranoid and worried.
The two reasons that stopped previous administrations from pursuing Charter change don’t bother the current leadership. First, the winning track record of the Duterte administration in the current Supreme Court gives it the confidence that it will not encounter the kind of judicial intercession that stopped two previous administrations. Its confidence is bolstered by the fact that President Duterte has appointed a supermajority of the high court’s current composition—12 of the 15 justices.
Second, with the public debilitated by the current pandemic, the Duterte administration has shown that it has no qualms disregarding intense public opposition. This was shown in the maneuvering to deny the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, despite strong public clamor to the contrary. Between the ABS-CBN and Charter change issues, it’s not unreasonable to venture that ordinary masses feel more strongly about the former. If the government had no scruples disregarding intense public anger on the ABS-CBN issue, all the more that it will disregard a less forceful opposition to Charter change.
There are more reasons to be on guard.
The third reason is that there’s a sense of desperation on the part of government, as shown by the enticement given to mayors by administration ally Chavit Singson, president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP). Singson declared that he will push for five-year terms with unlimited reelection for mayors under an amended Constitution. This administration is no longer sugar-coating Charter change as being beneficial for ordinary people. It’s dangling outright the bait that local politicians who will work to get the votes for Charter change will ensure a dynastic future for their families.
The desperation is also shown by Jonathan Malaya, undersecretary of the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The LMP stated that Charter change is meant to “institutionalize” the Supreme Court decision in “Mandanas v. Executive Secretary,” which has the effect of giving local governments a bigger share in national revenues. This was meant again to entice mayors, but only the gullible ones should believe this because the bigger share of cities and municipalities in national revenues is already guaranteed by a final Supreme Court decision. There’s absolutely no more need for Charter change.
Fourth, it’s less than two years from the end of President Duterte’s term. It’s the last chance for the administration to realistically attain the objective of changing the country’s fundamental law. Even before he won the presidency, Mr. Duterte had made known that amending the Constitution was one of his avowed dreams. While Malacañang has denied involvement in this latest push for Charter change, the disavowal gives no comfort at all. The Palace also denied involvement in the plot against ABS-CBN, only for the President to gloat later on in Jolo, Sulu, that he supposedly ended the oligarchy, in the same speech where he cursed ABS-CBN.
All the administrations of the past 28 years have brought out a species of Charter change that’s a multiheaded monster. The people succeeded in beheading one head of the monster each time. The Filipino people must prepare for another ritual of decapitation.
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