Church, progressive groups hit move to change Philippine constitution

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VARIOUS progressive and church organizations are up in arms in the Philippines following the plan to change the country’s 1987 constitution through the people’s initiative.

“I do not favor charter change…whether it is people’s initiative or constituent assembly. Charter change is not the answer to inflation, unemployment, housing crisis, education crisis, corruption, and economic crisis in the country,” said lawyer Aaron Pedrosa, leader of the multi-sectoral organization Sanlakas.

He said charter change only benefits the politicians who want to extend their term of office.

Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the signature campaign for people’s initiative being done in the communities “has no legal or moral basis and has been exposed as grand swindle.”

“The people’s initiative can and will be defeated because it is advocating self-serving changes in the Constitution and is being undertaken through highly questionable means,” added Reyes in a statement on January 16, 2023.

Reyes maintained that instead of charter change, the nation’s leaders should focus on creating more livelihood and improving the country’s social services.

Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, president of Caritas Philippines, earlier said that “any attempt to alter the Constitution, especially when shrouded in secrecy and lacking genuine public participation, raises serious concerns about its true motives.”

"Instead of wasting time and resources on amending the Constitution, the government should prioritize measures to eradicate corruption and ensure the efficient and effective delivery of basic social services to our people," said the bishop.

According to Bagaforo, charter change “is not a silver bullet for the Philippines' economic woes, particularly the pervasive issue of corruption."

"The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines has always taught that 'If the Constitution is to be revised at all, the process should lead to a greater defense and promotion of the moral values of human dignity and human rights, integrity and truth, participation and solidarity, and the common good,'" the bishop said.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) reiterated that “while the present constitution has its faults, its nationalist provisions are still very relevant, especially in protecting our natural patrimony and economy against foreign plunder and dominance.”

“Tinkering with the charter can also open the floodgates to changing the term limits of government officials,” NCCP said in a separate statement.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it has already received over 400 signature forms from different towns and cities across the country.

The commission will still verify if those who signed the petition, as multiple media reports came out that some people who signed the documents supporting the people’s initiative were allegedly paid and were promised to receive some form of government assistance.

However, people who are working for the people’s initiative signature campaign in the countryside said the allegations were not true.

“No bribery happened, as far as I know. We did public assemblies to explain the impact of joint voting, as proposed in the people’s initiative, and why it has come to this point that it is the people who must now exercise their power to amend the Constitution,” said Maasin City-based lawyer Bendever Gerona.

“The motive is on the house voting only…not political,” he added.

Gerona, who voluntarily worked for the people’s initiative signature campaign, said their next step is to submit the second original copy of the signatures they gathered to the National Secretariat along with the Certificate by the Election Officers as to the number of pages and the number of signatures.

The volunteer lawyer said the forms that were signed by the public mentioned a specific part of the Constitution that will be amended or revised through the people’s initiative, which is in paragraph 1, section 1 of Article 7. It reads:

“Section 1. Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or .”

The proposed amendment will now read: “Section 1. Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by:

(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all the members, voting jointly, at the call of the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

As this developed, Caritas Philippines reminded the government “of its sacred duty to fulfill the promises of the 1986 EDSA Revolution.

"The Filipino people deserve a government that prioritizes their needs and aspirations, not personal agendas," said Bagaforo.

Father Antonio Labiao Jr., Caritas Philippines executive director, also urged the government to focus on passing legislation that addresses pressing concerns, such as environmental protection, anti-dynasty measures, and electoral reforms.

"We need reforms that ensure the quality of our elections and the integrity of the vote. Only then can we have a truly representative democracy free from manipulation and vote-buying," Labio said.

"Let's focus on building a just and equitable society, not on rewriting the Constitution for personal gain," added Bagaforo. (SunStar Philippines)


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