Political tug-of-war on Cha-cha not really about Charter change

Political tug-of-war on Charter change not really about Charter change

/ 05:01 AM March 08, 2024

The current political tug-of-war between certain political sectors on the issue of amending the Constitution is just a screen for other struggles concerning other issues and not really about Charter change (Cha-cha). For the sake of argument, we assume to be factual the assertion that Cha-cha will fix the economy. That would indeed make Cha-cha an attractive proposition. Logically, we cannot achieve certain targets no matter how hard we work if the structures that frame our efforts are ineffective and inefficient.

This is not new rhetoric. Our country’s socialist Left has always argued this—that reforms are meaningless within a failed structure—and this has been the driving force behind its protracted people’s war, its dream of revolution. I can’t say whether or not our politicos are aware of it, but they share the same language with the communists they routinely take shots at. It is messianic rhetoric that pegs a utopian ideal on a central idea, whether the revolution or Cha-cha. And because of this, they share the same weakness—a lack of sufficient respect for historical contingency.

By this, I mean that their rhetoric is fundamentally based on a view that reduces history to a single, logical chain and assumes that one crucial thing can lead to another—in this case that changing the Charter will lead to social progress.


But history isn’t always logical. Logical prophecies routinely go wrong. This is because logic can only be truly 100 percent effective when it has access to all relevant factors. The success of prophecy is proportionate to the extent of the prophet’s grasp of relevant information. Unfortunately, history is too large—involving too many actors and factors, being too contingent—for one person or group of persons to have a complete understanding of the big historical picture.


People pessimistic about revolution usually ask, “After the revolution, what then?” People too optimistic about Cha-cha should ask themselves the same question since their rhetoric is bordering on promising some kind of utopia, as if Cha-cha by itself can solve all our woes.

The anti-Cha-cha groups recognize this. They say this isn’t the best time to be messing around with the Constitution. They point to the fact that removing economic restrictions from the Constitution would not accomplish much if the administration continues to fail in fixing all the other challenges that make the Philippines unattractive as a destination for foreign direct investments. These challenges include problems relating to infrastructure, governance, corruption, and ease of doing business.

If we were to all hypothetically agree that the Charter needs to be changed, the question becomes: Who will decide on these changes, and whose interests will these changes serve?

This is the reason why Cha-cha debates in previous administrations featured fierce arguments on how these changes were to come about. One option was for Congress to designate and organize itself as a constitutional assembly. But Congress had been revealed in past decades to be a circus, and respected senators and congressmen were exposed as either incompetents, clowns, or both. Their credibility to represent the people’s interests has become suspect. It is for this reason that some groups advocate the formation of a constitutional convention, which they thought would be more democratic, but even then, the process remains suspect when one cannot fully trust those who appoint or choose members of the convention.

Given this background, it becomes easy to read why some groups have instead pushed for a people’s initiative. A people’s initiative organized at the barangay level using government resources makes for a process of constitutional change that is easier to implement—and also easier for some politicians to hijack.

And there lies the rub: this is about the struggle for power between those who want more authentic representation and those who want to consolidate even more power in more effective ways under a new system.


Perhaps, the political climate can change, sooner or later so that the Cha-cha process can be initiated with more credibility and in a manner that is truly more democratic. But for now, we cannot help but subject Cha-cha to a realistic apprehension of historical contingency, knowing that the future is in our hands but not totally. The imminent debate on Cha-cha is not a case of a unified, monolithic national body deciding what is best for itself, but a case of fragmented interest groups rallying to consolidate their power over other people and to shape the Charter to legitimize their will to power. That’s what this is about.

And that’s why this is not about Cha-cha.

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Joseph Nathan Cruz

TAGS: Cha-cha, charter change, opinion

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