Experts: cha-cha not needed to boost economy

Experts: cha-cha not needed to boost economy
(Photo by Yans Baroy)

THE Philippine government does not need to change the 1987 Philippine Constitution to achieve good governance and improve the country’s economic fortunes, according to several experts, who said enforcing current laws and fighting corruption will already do the trick.

During a forum dubbed “Cha(t), Cha, Cha: Mga Indayog at Ritmo sa Pagpalit ng Saligang Batas” by the Philippine Communications Society, the University of the Philippines (UP) and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) last Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, lawyers, economists and political science professors emphasized that instead of pursuing Charter change (Cha-cha), the government should focus on implementing existing rules and laws effectively, and developing comprehensive strategies to combat corruption, particularly among those in political office.

PH economy already free

Dr. Cielo Magno, a former undersecretary of the Fiscal Policy and Monitoring Group of the Department of Finance and now a professor at the UP School of Economics, weighed in on the debates on changing certain economic provisions of the Constitution.

Magno said Congress already passed legislation that liberalized the economy of the Philippines in 2022. This contradicts the House of Representatives’ recent justification for Cha-cha that the country’s foreign direct investments (FDI) are still regulatory restrictive.

Magno emphasized that to attract more FDI, the government must consider the externalities that hinder the FDI from producing economic development for the country. These externalities include factors such as the level of education, technology, infrastructure and health in developing countries like the Philippines. Before being able to benefit from a foreign presence in markets, developing countries must have these factors in place.

Magno also pointed out that relatively overqualified labor without a high level of human investment relative to per capita income can hinder rapid FDI growth. Additionally, having an imperfect and underdeveloped financial market may prevent a country from reaping the full benefits of FDI.

Crowd out

She suggested that the government carefully consider the potential effects of FDI on domestic investment, explaining that while FDI can increase investment in the country, it may also crowd out domestic investments. Therefore, the government should have a strategic framework in place to determine what types of FDI the country needs.

She also emphasized that some of the FDI restrictions boil down to the protection of national security, especially in sectors that are very exposed to foreign intervention such as the power sector, with the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines having Chinese investors.

“Imagine allowing a foreign company to own the distribution of water in the country. Then, all of a sudden, with a conflict with that country, they will have control of the quality and access to water centers,” said Magno, citing another sensitive sector.

Edsa ‘unfinished business’

Christian Monsod, former Commission on Elections chairman and one of the key figures in drafting the 1987 Philippine Constitution, believes that the Edsa People Power Revolution in 1986 was more than just a restoration of democracy. It was also a promise of a new social order.

The Edsa Revolution ousted from power the dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., whose 20-year rule was marked by human rights abuses and corruption.

However, after many administrations, the promise of Edsa has remained unfulfilled. Monsod believes that the succeeding governments after Edsa owe an apology to the youth, citizens and especially the marginalized sectors of the country for neglecting the true essence of the Edsa campaign.

“The fact is that (after we brought) our nation to greatness at Edsa and after we accomplished in the 1992 elections, the first peaceful transfer of power in 27 years, we folded our banners, we put away the T-shirts with the imaginative slogans that brought humor to that time and we went back to our personal purposes and advocacies. As we went back to our separate pace with our separate causes, we lost something to dream of a nation in a significance of interconnected lives. This is why we are in a bad position today,” said Monsod.


Monsod advised the public to be cautious about the proposed Cha-cha. He said the country is on a slippery slope toward authoritarianism, as evidenced by the rise in the dynasties of four presidents in Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Rodrigo Duterte and current President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the ousted dictator.

Monsod added that the country’s systems of checks and balances are weakening, the rule of law is in decline, and corruption is on the rise.

He claimed that government officials blamed the Constitution for hindering the country’s economic growth. However, their argument is based on a survey showing that 73 percent of Filipinos have little to no knowledge of the 1987 Constitution.

Charter protects

Monsod gave three reasons why the Constitution of the Philippines should not be changed.

First, he said social justice is at the heart of the 1987 Constitution, which aims to improve the lives of the impoverished. The Constitution was created to address the massive economic, social and political inequalities that stem from a federalistic system dominated by dynastic families. Corruption has been a significant impediment to change for generations, as stated in Article 13, Section 1 of the Constitution.

Second, Monsod said the Constitution is designed to protect the country from another authoritarian government. It has strict limitations and conditions for declaring martial law, and new provisions in the Bill of Rights to protect citizens from state abuses.

Finally, he pointed out that the Constitution is firmly rooted in the Filipino people themselves. Unlike the 1935 Constitution, which gave Americans equal rights to the Philippine patrimony and economic policies, the current Constitution cannot be amended without the approval of the Filipino people. The 1935 Constitution resulted in a foreign exchange crisis in the early 1950s and the cutting of ties between the Philippine and American Constitutions.

Not silver bullet

Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, a professor at the UP Department of Political Science and a member of the Philippine Political Science Association, expressed concern about the developments in the campaign for Cha-cha. According to her, it seems to be a “done deal,” which is silencing the voices of those who oppose it.

She reminded legislators that Cha-cha is not a silver bullet or a magical solution to cure the country’s problems, and it is not the only means to achieve the nation’s desires and aspirations.

“Reforms can be accomplished through an appropriate mix of legislation and policy interventions, and not simply through constitutional amendments or even institutional overhaul. Existing laws can be reviewed and amended (e.g. Local Government Code; Omnibus Election Code) and processes and practices safeguarded and improved (e.g. preserving the integrity of the Judicial and Bar Council and selection process of nominations and appointments of justices and judges without interference from politicians while maintaining transparency and accountability),” said Encinas-Franco, reading an excerpt from the UP Department of Political Science’s statement against Cha-cha.

Alarm over PI

Encinas-Franco expressed concern about the speedy passage of the People’s Initiative (PI), which she believes was “railroaded.” She also questioned the legislators’ attempt to suggest that the PI campaign has widespread public support.

Encinas-Franco referred to a survey conducted by Pulse Asia in September 2022, which was cited in the UP statement, showing that Cha-cha was not considered an urgent national concern.

Monsod noted that the Cha-cha campaign was initially introduced in the Senate for a 2/3 vote for a constitutional convention, and then in the House of Representatives and the Senate again for a 3/4 vote for a constitutional assembly, but all efforts failed.

The PI campaign is now considered the legislators’ last card for Cha-cha, and it has been ongoing in some parts of Manila.

Encinas-Franco said Marcos Jr. was somehow convinced to take on Cha-cha, despite saying during his campaign for the 2022 elections that he was not for Charter change as there were more urgent matters to address.

She described Marcos Jr.’s sudden involvement in the campaign and direct talks with both houses of Congress as a weird turn of events.

Encinas-Franco also pointed out that combining the Cha-cha plebiscite with the 2025 Midterm Elections might muddle more important issues, making Cha-cha the number one concern.

Critical thinking

Fr. Wilmer Tria, advocacy adviser of CEAP, reminded the public to have critical thinking. He emphasized that trusting politicians to change the Constitution for the common good not only shows naivete and mediocrity but also stupidity.

He urged people to remain vigilant. According to Tria, all attempts to amend the Constitution, such as revising its economic provisions and education, are mere diversionary tactics for some government officials to perpetuate themselves in power.

Jan Robert Go, president of the Philippine Political Science Association, suggested that the public be involved in identifying which parts of the Constitution should be amended or revised.

Go also emphasized the importance of looking into corrupt politicians and political dynasties to address corruption in the country, aside from Cha-cha.

Felipe Salvosa II, public relations officer of the Philippine Communication Society, stressed the need to examine the motives and implications of the economic provisions proposed by the legislators. He suggested that the public question the basis and premises of these proposals.

Cha-cha comeback

In January 2024, the issue of Cha-cha returned to the spotlight after Presidential Sister and Sen. Imee Marcos accused House Speaker Martin Romualdez, her cousin, of offering a reward of P20 million for each legislative district in exchange for signatures in support of the PI.

The PI proposes to amend the 1987 Constitution to allow all members of Congress to vote jointly on proposed constitutional amendments in a constituent assembly, rather than separately. The move prompted condemnation from the 24 senators, whose votes would barely count against those of the 316 members of the House of Representatives.

For the economy

Interviewed by GMA news on Jan. 23, President Marcos Jr. expressed openness to revising some economic provisions of the Constitution, saying the 1987 Constitution was not written for a globalized world and that adjusting it was needed to increase the country’s economic activity.

Marcos Jr. said he was open to discussing full foreign ownership of corporations, except in critical areas such as power generation, media, and all strategic areas that cannot be influenced by a foreign entity in a corporation or another country. But he does not want to allow foreign ownership of land.

Last Monday, Feb. 26, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Marcos Jr. wanted the plebiscite to ratify the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution done simultaneously with the 2025 elections.

In a prayer rally held in Cebu City last Feb. 25, the 38th anniversary of the People Power Revolution, former President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his support for Cha-cha, in a reversal from his previous denunciation of Cha-cha in January.

Duterte said he was now open to changing not only the economic provisions but even the term of the president, so long as it did not benefit the incumbent president.


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