The discussions about the Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 (RBH 6) and House Bill 7352 (HB 7352) as well as the opinions shared by experts from different fields, in favor or against charter change (“cha-cha”), make it appear that the Philippines is heading towards another political anecdoche.
John Koenig defines the word as “a conversation in which everyone is talking but nobody is listening—instead merely overlaying words… until we reach a point when we all run out of things to say.”
There are a lot of sentiments that have been repeatedly said by some personalities and sectors against cha-cha since the time of former President Fidel V. Ramos.
First, there’s the claim that it is not the right time to have cha-cha without providing a logical explanation as to when will the time be ripe to change our 36-year-old Constitution.
In relation to this is the obscure claim that cha-cha is not a priority of the current administration, even if during the 2022 campaign then Presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr acknowledged that a federal system of government “fits” the Philippines.
In an interview, he said: “Sa aking palagay, pag-usapang mabuti. Kung sakali mang sumang-ayon ang taumbayan na dapat lumipat tayo sa pederalismo at ‘yan ang ninanais ng madla, yun ang ating gagawin.”
Second, there’s also the claim that cha-cha should only be limited to economic provisions without explaining how such deliberate limitation separates it from the realm of politics.
This is reportedly the aim of RBH 6 and HB 7352, which is to rewrite the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution to attract more foreign investments.
This tends to ignore the fact that politics is all about collective choices, which inherently includes the choice of economic provisions that need to be changed.
To be sustainable and enduring, economic provisions also need the support of sound political, social, and other related provisions.
Moreover, with the estimated PHP 10 billion of taxpayers’ money that will likely be spent if cha-cha pushes through, it may not be practical to focus only on economic provisions.
There are other areas that deserve to be revisited such as our country’s government structure and our dysfunctional and weak political party system.
And third, there’s the claim that cha-cha will not cure our country’s problems and that we must address corruption, political dynasty, poverty, security of tenure, agrarian reform, and other similar issues instead of changing the Constitution.
However, the advocates of this claim seem to ignore the importance of the Constitution, being the country’s fundamental charter, in establishing or at least inspiring the establishment of the right institutions that could address our country’s manifold problems.
The Constitution is fundamental because it serves as the “fundamentum” or foundation of all our laws, and to a great extent, it sets in motion the direction of our nation’s social, economic, and political life.
These sentiments, however, should not be dismissed lightly. Instead, they must be considered as pieces of advice that are intended to guide our decision-makers, particularly the proponents of cha-cha.
For all we know, these sentiments could turn out to be as meritorious as the advice of French general Ney to Napoleon during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.
Had Napoleon listened to the advice, European and world history would have taken a different trajectory.
Or these sentiments could also turn out to be mere expressions to derail real change, like an Artabanus cautioning his nephew Xerxes not to cross the Hellespont.
The current cha-cha move suggests Constitutional Convention as the mode to amend or revise our Constitution.
The convention is proposed to take a hybrid form with around 300 elected and appointed delegates. Twenty percent of the delegates will be composed of sectoral representatives who will be appointed by the House Speaker and the Senate President.
Based on reports, the delegates will be elected on 30 October 2023 simultaneously with the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls, will convene on 20 November 2023, and will submit their report on 30 July 2024.
There will be a plebiscite within 60 to 90 days after the submission of the report. It seems that there’s really nothing wrong with the cha-cha plan, except that it has to consider going beyond the economic restrictions in the Constitution to let real change emerge from a new and improved charter.
In other words, there is a need for a more comprehensive approach in changing the charter.
We cannot take account of everything that lies ahead in the process of and even after we have improved our charter.
No matter where we are in the political spectrum, the horizon we will see in the distance will always be limited.
But this limitation should not discourage us from pursuing genuine change. With this, I would like to part with you, reader, with these thoughts from Xerxes in 480 B.C.E.: “if you were to take account of everything . . ., you would never do anything.” It is time to chart the change we deserve.
(The author is a professor from San Beda University and a former chair of the Department of Political Science.)