THE ongoing “people’s initiative” (PI) campaign for Charter change has become a contentious, deeply polarizing and consequential issue. It has now ripened and sown political discord that is driving a wedge between senators and members of the House of Representatives. It is even causing friction within the House among those members who are against it primarily due to its potential to reshape the Constitution and profoundly impact the political landscape of the country.
Certainly, this PI has been met with stern opposition from every corner of Philippine society, including the Senate. But in all these, the most imperative question is why this PI is extremely politically polarizing and strongly opposed by many Filipinos, including senators, Vice President Sara Duterte, and even President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who appears to be somewhat ambivalent about it. Is this PI for “Cha-cha” the “silver bullet” to the complex socioeconomic and political problems of the country?
Public and political reactions
Undeniably, the PI has sparked a range of reactions from various sectors of Philippine society and among the Filipino public. The contentious issues revolve around the method and implications of the proposed Charter changes, concerns about the democratic process, and the broader political and constitutional context in which these changes are being proposed. The outcome of this initiative, if it pushes through, will definitely have a significant impact not just on the specific constitutional amendments in question but also on the future of democratic governance in the Philippines. In retrospect, the PI for Cha-cha is contentious and has broader implications for the democratic process, political power dynamics and constitutional integrity of the country.
One of the strongest contentions against this initiative boils down to concern over the alleged misuse of social assistance programs to gather signatures and whether this initiative can adequately address complex constitutional issues. There’s also the concern about the danger of misinforming the public of the true intention of this initiative and whether it opens up the process to manipulation or superficial public understanding of the implications of the proposed constitutional changes.
There are allegations that voters were misinformed or bribed to sign the petition. If true, this would undermine the legitimacy of the initiative and raise serious concerns about the integrity of the process. The questions about the legitimacy of the signature campaign and the procedural aspects of the initiative would indicate that the PI, as an exemplification of direct democracy in constitutional amendments, is being used irresponsibly by its proponents.
Furthermore, this PI could upset the balance of power in government and weaken the system of checks and balances precisely because one of the key proposed amendments is to change the way the Senate and the House vote on constitutional amendments — from voting separately to voting jointly. This is contentious because it significantly reduces the power of the Senate, given that the House has more members.
The initiative also raises questions about public participation in the democratic process. While the PI is considered a direct democracy mechanism, which, in theory, gives citizens a more direct voice or hand in legislation, such a process fundamentally requires a well-informed electorate which can make informed decisions and robust public debate to ensure that decisions are made based on a comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake. However, substantial, in-depth and extensive public debates and discussions on this matter seem significantly lacking.
The raison d’être behind the need to change the 1987 Constitution, more particularly the lifting of foreign ownership restrictions as a primary area for an amendment to attract more foreign investors, thereby boosting the country’s economic growth and competitiveness in a globalized world, is in many ways a rational proposition. Nonetheless, the means to achieve such an end through a deceptive, abused and contentious PI currently taking place in the country raises significant concerns. It not only presents a potential risk but also jeopardizes and threatens to undermine the very democratic foundations, principles and integrity upon which the nation stands.
Any attempt to amend the 1987 Constitution through methods that lack democratic legitimacy and are shrouded in uncertainty about their true intentions is ultimately self-defeating, counterproductive and superfluous.
While it may be true that a people’s initiative may enhance the sense of legitimacy for constitutional amendments because they emerge from the will of the people, which could lead to greater public engagement and a sense of ownership over the political process, the quality of outcomes depends on the level of public awareness and understanding of the issues at stake, and this is significantly lacking in the PI campaign currently taking place. Hence, for any PI to be a truly effective and meaningful tool, it needs to be backed by a well-informed electorate who makes informed choices, especially on complex political issues such as constitutional change.
Moreover, there’s a need to balance and manage the expectations that lifting the economic provisions of the Constitution will solve the country’s socioeconomic problems because that would be an exaggeration.
Amending the economic provisions of the Constitution is more like a conduit and a vehicle toward change rather than a “magic wand” or a “silver bullet” that will solve all the ills of the economy.
The socioeconomic and political problems of the country are deeply rooted in the country’s history, culture and existing institutional frameworks. They are typically intertwined with various factors such as education, health care, economic policy and governance.
Amending the economic provisions of the Constitution could be just one approach among many needed to enact broad socioeconomic changes in the country. It is not a panacea for all socioeconomic problems of the country, though it could be a tool that must be used judiciously and in conjunction with other reform measures to ensure that it contributes to the overall socioeconomic development, and political and democratic health of the Philippines.
Thus, the decision to amend the economic provisions should be carefully studied, weighing the potential economic benefits against risks to national interest. Economic policies are most effective when tailored to the specific needs and capacities of the country. A blanket removal of all restrictions may not be as beneficial as a selective approach that opens up some sectors while protecting others.
It is also crucial to complement changes to the economic provisions with robust regulations that safeguard the interest of local industries and the workforce. Any legislative change should be accompanied by measures to strengthen the competitiveness of local businesses, ensuring they can take advantage of increased FDI (foreign direct investment) rather than be overshadowed by it.
I have no doubt that there’s a need to change or amend the Constitution more fitting to the times. However, amending or changing the Constitution at this time, given the existing political establishment and the current political climate, might not be conducive to a fair, well-meaning, well-intentioned and unbiased Cha-cha process.
Attracting FDI is a critical component of economic development for many countries like the Philippines, for it contributes to the establishment of more foreign-owned businesses, which can create jobs, stimulate economic growth, bring advanced technologies and practices that can enhance the productivity of the local workforce and lead to skill transfers, increase competition in the local market, potentially leading to lower prices, and improved product and service quality for consumers, and facilitate a more deeply and better integrated Philippines into the global economy.
However, to do so successfully, the country should create a conducive environment for foreign investors, meaning there are some necessary domestic conditions that need to be in place to help attract FDI, including a stable political environment with predictable policies and regulations, a transparent and robust legal framework that protects property rights, enforces contracts and provides a fair dispute resolution mechanism, a stable macroeconomic environment, among others.
Ultimately, the question of whether to remove the economic provisions is complex and requires a nuanced approach. It is not just about increasing and attracting FDI but ensuring that the necessary conditions to attract FDI are in place, and that FDI will contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic growth without jeopardizing the strategic national interest of the country.
Source: The Manila Times