Keenly watching the Cha-cha train | Inquirer Opinion

Keenly watching the Cha-cha train

/ 05:03 AM February 03, 2024

It seems there’s no stopping the Charter change (Cha-cha) train now that the Senate has dropped its staunch opposition to it, and has put into motion a resolution proposing certain economic amendments in the 1987 Constitution.No doubt Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 (RBH 6), filed by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri himself, was a bid for the chamber’s survival since a signature drive for a people’s initiative (PI)—which gained momentum in the past few weeks—could potentially sideline the Senate.The controversial initiative proposes an amendment to Article XVII of the Constitution, which identifies the modes by which the Charter can be revised or amended. Specifically, proponents of the PI petition want to amend the provision which states “… Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members;” may propose revisions or amendments to the Charter by proposing that it can be done with Congress voting jointly.

With more than 300 House members, the 24 senators will undoubtedly be rendered insignificant in a joint voting scheme—partly the reason why the Senate has consistently opposed or ignored Cha-cha attempts in previous years.

Growing consensus

Just a year ago, Zubiri shrugged off Cha-cha, following President Marcos’ pronouncement that it was not his priority because “there are so many other things that we need to do first.” But Mr. Marcos changed his mind recently after his allies in the House, led by Speaker Martin Romualdez, pushed the Cha-cha idea ostensibly to attract more foreign investments. In March last year, the House approved House Bill No. 7352 providing for mechanisms to amend the Charter through a constitutional convention composed of appointed members of Congress and elected delegates.


As the Senate did not take up the House bill, the PI idea was hatched, gathering—as of late last month—the signatures of more than the required 12 percent of all registered voters in the country, with at least 3 percent from every legislative district, according to active PI proponent Albay Rep. Joey Salceda.


If the Cha-cha strategists had intended to make the PI so repulsive that it would push the Senate to embrace a constituent assembly, they certainly succeeded. With allegations that the signatures were bought, and with the Commission on Elections stopping its offices from receiving and validating the signatures, there seems to be a growing consensus to let Congress do the job.The Senate, ironically, helped turn the Cha-cha tide by filing its own measure, which will be tackled in hearings next week. RBH 6 proposes three specific economic amendments—on provisions limiting foreign ownership of public utilities, educational institutions, and the advertising industry.

Constitutional crisis

Zubiri said the measure was meant “to make it clear that there are no other planned provisions or amendments,” such as the lifting of term limits or the change in the form of government. By its resolution, the Senate will thus avert a constitutional crisis and the bicameral legislative system will be preserved, he added.

Understandably, Romualdez was elated with the Senate move that he said was a “significant step towards the much-awaited constitutional amendments.” The move, he added, “is seen not merely as a legislative exercise but as a crucial step in realizing the aspirations of the Filipino people and unlocking the nation’s full potential.”

The challenge in this rapidly-developing movement is making sure that our honorable legislators will keep their word. That is, that the proposed amendments—done either through a constituent assembly or a constitutional convention—will be limited to economic provisions, as Mr. Marcos himself has stated. Given how our political system works, there is no guarantee that even a formal resolution limiting the process to certain amendments is cast in stone.

Open the floodgates

Experts have warned as well that both a constituent assembly and a constitutional convention can open the floodgates to changes even in the form of government and other political provisions.

Which is why vigilance and active involvement by all sectors is paramount—by the Senate, the enlightened members of the House, the Supreme Court as a check and balance to other branches of government, civil society, and the private sector, media, the academe, professionals, and Filipino citizens in general in whose name the Charter was drafted.


“Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them,’’ the Constitution states. Unfortunately, this sacrosanct provision has not been spared the machinations of the powerful, who have mostly brought upon this country the ills now being blamed on the Charter.

As two politically powerful clans fight it out for dominance, the public should be on guard to ensure that moves to change the fundamental law of the land will not be a prelude to returning the country to its darkest era—be it the martial law regime of the distant past or the iron-fisted rule of very recent times.

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TAGS: Constitution, Editorial Cartoon, opinion

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