Wrong time for Cha-cha | Inquirer Opinion
With Due Respect

Wrong time for Cha-cha

A week ago, the chair of the committee on constitutional amendments of the House of Representatives, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus B. Rodriquez, invited me to attend a public hearing this Thursday, Jan. 26, “to consult” me (and, I assume, several others) on “1. Whether or not it is necessary to amend the Constitution; 2. If in the affirmative, what is your preferred mode of amendment?; and 3. What are your proposed specific amendments, if any?”

I THANK THE ESTEEMED CONGRESSMAN FOR HIS INVITATION. Due to conflicts in schedules and my doctor’s advice, I respectfully declined personal appearance at the public hearing. Nonetheless, I decided to write this piece as my humble answer to his questions.

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All in all, I believe this is not the right time to discuss Charter change (Cha-cha). In fact, I believe our people have become so wary of numerous past Cha-cha attempts that the mere mention of Cha-cha turns them off completely.

This is not to say that our Constitution is perfect. In fact, I think it needs to be revised at the right time, in the right way, for the right reasons, and by the right persons/entities. It is verbose; some provisions are vague; some are awkwardly phrased. Specifically, IMHO, the provisions on the national territory, the party-list, and the foreign restrictions on natural resources, among others, need to be revisited.

FEATURED STORIES

NO CONSTITUTION IN THE WORLD IS PERFECT. The US Constitution—the oldest in the planet, born on Sept. 17, 1787, and ratified on June 21, 1788—has persevered through time, wars, and economic depressions. It had been amended 27 times since then. Yet, it is not perfect. Example: at least two US presidents (George W. Bush and Donald Trump) were declared winners by the US Electoral College though their respective opponents (Al Gore and Hillary Clinton) got more popular votes than they.

Theoretically, our presidents have no participation in Charter change. Though their approval is needed for ordinary legislation to become law yet, they have no legal power to initiate or approve constitutional changes. Nonetheless, in actual fact, no Charter change is possible without their intervention and support. Though not all presidents succeeded in revising our basic law, no revisions had been made without their backing.

Thus, the amendments to the 1935 Charter were crafted at the prodding of Presidents Manuel Quezon and Manuel Roxas. Similarly, the 1973 Constitution was created, and the amendments thereto approved, at the direction of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., while the 1987 Charter was cobbled at the call of President Corazon Aquino.

Thereafter, even with the support of our incumbent presidents, the 1987 Constitution has remained untouched. During the terms of Presidents Fidel V. Ramos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, there were serious attempts to transform our presidential system into a parliamentary via a people’s initiative. If successful, these attempts would have deleted the constitutional ban against reelection and enabled incumbent chief executives to continue serving indefinitely as prime ministers. But twice, our Supreme Court (in Santiago v. Comelec, March 19, 1997, and Lambino v. Comelec, Oct. 25, 2006) struck down the attempts.

President Joseph Estrada created a “Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reforms” chaired by retired CJ Andres R. Narvasa. However, its report remained unacted upon due to Estrada’s ouster by Edsa People Power II.

Early in his term, President Rodrigo Duterte named a “Consultative Commission” to change our centralized structure to the federal system, which he publicly espoused. Chaired by another retired CJ, Reynato S. Puno, it drafted a sweeping “Bayanihan Constitution” which, despite the high trust rating of the then president, did not see any light in Congress, much less in the public space.

IN CONTRAST TO HIS PREDECESSORS, President Bongbong Marcos has not shown any interest in Cha-cha. I do not remember him mentioning it in his pre-election speeches or in his State of the Nation Address last July. Without his enthusiastic support, no constitutional revision is possible. Any further discussion would be useless divisionary chatter. If changing the Charter is the wrong solution to joblessness, high prices, and agonizing poverty, what is the right one?

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It is changing the officials who subvert our institutions. More accurately, what we need is not just a change of leaders, but a change in our leaders, in the men and women who run our institutions and systems. A change from the inside out, a change of hearts, a change of values.

What we need are courageous, competent, ethical, and patriotic leaders who will make our institutions and systems work, who will fulfill our grand visions and programs, and who will put our nation’s interest above their own.

We need more patriotism, less formalism; more delicadeza, less legalism; more substance, less rhetoric; more action, less talk; more dedication to duty, less posturing; more economics, less politics; more truth, less duplicity; more ethics, less image-building; more integrity, less bigotry.

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