Experts: Government can achieve good governance without Cha-cha

Experts: Government can achieve good governance without Cha-cha
Photo from Philippine Communication Society

THE Philippine government does not need to prioritize changing the 1987 Constitution to achieve good governance and improve the country, several experts said.

During a webinar held through Zoom by the Philippine Communications Society (PCS), the University of the Philippines (UP), and the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) on Wednesday, February 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.

The forum, dubbed "Cha(t), Cha, Cha: Mga Indayog at Ritmo sa Pagpalit ng Saligang Batas," was held to understand the implications of Cha-Cha by discussing the context, issues, and concerns surrounding it.

PH economy is already free

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

According to Magno, the Congress has already passed legislation that liberalizes the economy of the Philippines in 2022. This contradicts the House's recent justification that the country's Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is still regulatory restrictive.

The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines FDI as a category of cross-border investment in which an investor resident in one economy establishes a lasting interest in and a significant degree of influence over an enterprise resident in another economy.

Magno also emphasized that to attract more FDIs, 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.

She suggested that the government should carefully consider the potential effects of FDI on domestic investment.

Magno said 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 FDIs the country needs.

She also emphasized that some of the FDI restrictions boils down to the protection of national security, especially to sectors that are very exposed to foreign interventions such as the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines with the presence of 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.

Edsa an 'unfinished business'

Christian Monsod, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chair 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.

But despite passing through many administrations, this promise remained unfulfilled, he said.

Monsod believes that the succeeding governments after Edsa owe an apology to the youth, citizens, and the marginalized sectors of the country for neglecting the true essence of the Edsa campaign.

"The fact is that 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 reminded the public to be cautious about the proposed Cha-Cha for the Philippines.

He said the country has recently experienced a slippery slope toward authoritarianism, as evidenced by the rise of dynasties of four presidents since Joseph Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, Rodrigo Duterte, and current President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

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 said government officials blamed the Constitution for hindering the country's economic growth but their argument is based on a survey showing that 73 percent of Filipinos have little to no knowledge of the 1987 Constitution.

The Constitution must not be changed

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

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

He added that the Constitution is designed to protect the country from another authoritarian government. Thus, it has strict limitations and conditions for declaring martial law, and new provisions in the Bill of Rights protect citizens from state abuses.

He also 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, he said.

The 1935 Constitution resulted in a foreign exchange crisis in the early 1950s and the cutting of ties between the Philippine and American Constitutions, he added.

Cha-Cha a done deal

Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, a professor at the UP Department of Political Science and a member of the Philippine Political Science Association, expressed her concern about the developments of 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 the 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.

Encinas-Franco stood together with the UP Department of Political Science to emphasize that Cha-Cha is not a panacea to address the social and economic ills of the Philippines.

"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 in processes and practices safeguard and need proof," she said, as she read an excerpt from the UP Department of Political Science's Statement against Cha-Cha.

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 somewhat convinced to take on Cha-Cha, despite stating during his campaign for the 2022 local and national elections that he was not for Charter Change, citing that there are 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 plebiscite with the 2025 midterm elections might muddle more important issues, making Cha-Cha the number one concern.

Critical thinking

Fr. Wilmer Tria, the 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 naivety and mediocrity but also stupidity.

He urged the 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 power.

Jan Robert Go, president of the Philippine Political Science Association, suggested that the public should be involved in the process of 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, PR 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 should question the basis and premises of these proposals.

Cha-cha comeback

In January 2024, the campaign for Cha-Cha was reignited when presidential sister and Senator 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 People's Initiative (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.

During an interview with GMA news anchor Pia Archanghel on January 23, President Marcos Jr. expressed his openness to revising some economic provisions of the Constitution, even though he initially stated that Cha-Cha was not among his priorities in 2022.

He said the 1987 Constitution was not written for a globalized world and believed that adjusting the Constitution was necessary to increase the country's economic activity.

Marcos Jr. said he is 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 clarified that he does not agree with the idea of allowing foreign ownership of land.

When asked if he is also willing to amend the political provisions of the 1987 Constitution, Marcos Jr. had yet to comment.

On Monday, February 26, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said Marcos Jr. wants the plebiscite to ratify the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution to be done simultaneously with the 2025 national and local elections.

In a separate interview on Wednesday, February 27, Marcos Jr. said the plebiscite and the 2025 polls being done at separate periods would be costly for the government.

In a prayer rally held at the Kasadya Grounds in Cebu City on Sunday, February 25, former President Rodrigo Duterte expressed his support for a Charter Change.

Experts: Government can achieve good governance without Cha-cha
FPRRD insists stance on Cha-cha never changed

This is a reversal from his previous denunciation of Cha-Cha in January.

Duterte said he is now open to changing not only the economic provisions but also the presidential term, as long as the current administration of Marcos Jr. will not benefit from it and it will not affect the 2025 midterm elections. (HIC)


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