Rama: League of Cities of the Philippines made no stand on charter change

Political analyst explains roots of people's deep distrust of charter change initiatives
CEBU. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama.
CEBU. Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama. File Photo from Cebu City PIO

FOLLOWING an announcement by League of Cities of the Philippines (LCP) chairman and Bacolod City Mayor Alfredo Abelardo “Albee” Benitez that the group had passed a resolution supporting amendments to the 1987 Constitution, LCP president and Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama clarified that the LCP has not taken a stand on charter change.

“The LCP never made a stand on charter change,” Rama said during the “Ingna’ng Mayor” program on the Sugboanon Channel Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

Rama said they discussed constitutional change during one of their board meetings but there was no stand made due to their differing views.

Rama said the differing views included on whether it should be undertaken by constitutional convention or other means.

Under the 1987 Constitution, charter change may be undertaken in three ways: a constitutional convention, convening the House and Senate into a constituent assembly, and people’s initiative.

Earlier this week, a number of media outlets reported that Benitez said the LCP had passed a resolution stating that it strongly favors amending the 1987 Constitution.

The reports quoted Benitez as saying the LCP had not yet discussed the specific provisions of the Constitution that they would push to change, however.

On Thursday, Rama said the surprising thing about the reports on charter change is that it is a people’s initiative.

He said if it is a people’s initiative, then it should never come from the mayor’s initiative nor be called a congressional initiative, but should emanate from the people.

According to Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution, amendments to the Constitution may be directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least 12 percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of its registered voters.

Rama also expressed the need for transparency, urging those behind the people’s initiative to be clear on their motives and bring the matter to the public’s attention.

“I wish this matter about people’s initiative to be put in a proper perspective and bringing who are the people behind it, so that they should explain because the responsibility of a responsible elected official should carry with it a degree of circumspection. That’s why I am more of having this matter unearthed so that madlang people (the general public) will be made aware of what’s really happening, what is the bottom line, what is the motive because we cannot add more challenges to our country,” Rama said.

When asked if the matter represents the consensus of the entire LCP, Rama said “no.”

Asked if he would reach out to his members concerning the matter, Rama said he already gave a directive to his executive director to make others aware that the league never had a discussion on it.

“If and when, that has to be clarified, whether there was a board resolution agreeing to a people’s initiative and that should be through another board resolution. And that board resolution should be based upon a board meeting. And if there is none, it goes without saying, it does not carry, more or less, official function in the league,” Rama said.

Asked if he is in favor of charter change, Rama said he has been looking at the possibility if there is really a need.

“We should be careful tinkering with our Constitution. One, if we tinker with our Constitution, it might open a Pandora’s box, and a Pandora’s box brings personal interest, whims and caprices,” Rama said.

Rama also said if constitutional change is considered, it should involve elected delegates with expertise in constitutional matters, ensuring a representative and informed approach.

“I have always been, though it is expensive, but it is representative, if we would try to tinker with our Constitution, give it to the constitutional convention delegates because these people are primarily elected with presumed resumé. ... You must bring the cream of the crop,” Rama said.

Aberrations, vote buying

In a statement on Thursday night, Jan. 11, Rep. Edcel Lagman (Albay, 1st district) cited “aberrations” in the call for constitutional amendments via people’s initiative.

“The people’s initiative has been transformed into a congressional initiative because the gathering of signatures is being conducted by municipal mayors at the behest of the members of the House,” Lagman said.

He added that the campaign for the petition was “marred by signature buying, which is in violation of Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to Section 19 of the Plebiscite and Referendum Act (RA 6735) which penalizes the buying and selling of votes.”

Overwhelm

The opposition lawmaker also warned two days earlier that the proposed people’s initiative, “which is virtually a congressional initiative, will make the voting in the constituent assembly of representatives and senators a joint voting, which would fast-track the approval of proposed amendments to the Constitution since the more numerous representatives would overwhelm the senators.”

This, as Lagman said, the Senate had been “the graveyard for proposals to amend the Constitution.”

The House of Representatives has 315 members, while there are only 24 senators.

Last December, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, cousin of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said the House would make a renewed push for charter change, focusing on the economic provisions.

Deep distrust

Previous attempts to amend the 1987 Constitution have failed due to popular distrust of politicians who, the public believes, will attempt to amend the charter to extend their terms in office.

In “How the Philippines could overcome its deep mistrust of Constitutional reform,” posted on VerfBlog in 2022, Michael Henry Yusingco attributed the public’s deep mistrust to “the historic experience of dictator Marcos Sr.’s abuse of constitutional change.”

Marcos Sr. is the father of the country’s current president.

Yusingco said that in 1971, a constitutional convention with elected delegates began drafting a new constitution.

“Before they could finish their work, Marcos Sr. declared Martial Law. Under tense and tumultuous conditions, the constitutional convention somehow managed to produce a draft that eventually became the 1973 Constitution. However, this constitution made Marcos Sr. a constitutional dictator, in which he exercised both executive and legislative powers as President,” political analyst Yusingco wrote.

Marcos Sr. was ousted in the 1986 People Power Revolution.

Yusingco said the 1973 Constitution “provided the 14-year authoritarian regime of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. with a coat of legitimacy,” while the 1987 Constitution “restored a Republican democratic system in the country.”

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