By Psyche Roxas-Mendoza
Second of three parts
PRESIDENTS have consistently attempted to change the 1987 Constitution that was crafted during the administration of the late President Corazon C. Aquino. The effort—from the time of Presidents Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Benigno C. Aquino III—spans almost 21 years.
None of these attempts proved successful.
During her lifetime, Mrs. Aquino blocked every maneuver to change the Constitution, citing “extension of term limits” as reason for her protest.
Retired University of the Philippines Mass Communication Prof.Benito O. Lim said, however, that “Aquino’s anti-Charter-change [Cha-cha] role notwithstanding, the failure to effect Cha-cha is more a result of its proponents’ inability to reach out to the public and explain Charter change in detail.”
“Wala silang detalye [They offer no details],” Lim said. “There is a call to action, but not enough detail on the reasons for the call. They should explain the advantages local governments will have, and the benefits that can be derived by all from Charter change.”
AS stated in the 1987 Constitution, there are three ways to amend or revise the Constitution. All three require ratification by a majority vote in a national referendum.
The first option is by constituent assembly, where members of the Senate and the House of Representatives convene to propose constitutional amendments. Three-fourths of all the senators and representatives should vote in favor of an amendment before such can pass.
Holding a constitutional convention (Con-con) is the second option to change the Charter. Delegates to the Con-con are elected and those elected will craft the Charter amendment or amendments.
The third option is through people’s initiative (PI), where 12 percent of the voting population (at least 3 percent for each voting district) will sign the petition stating the amendments to the Constitution.
The PI option was chosen during the administration of Mr. Ramos. Known as People’s Initiative for Modernization and Action (Pirma), the move called for a shift from presidential to a parliamentary form of government and the lifting of term limits of elected officials.
A full-page, paid advertisement of Pirma that came out on December 5, 1996, in the Manila Standard newspaper established the accomplishments of then-President Ramos and the wisdom of changing the Charter. It said:
“For millions of Filipinos, President Ramos has been a good leader. The successful hosting of [the] Apec [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit] is just one of his government’s achievements that make us proud to be Filipinos. There have been many more accomplishments during his term that have given Filipinos confidence and hope in the future,” the statement said in its introductory paragraph.
The statement added that “to prepare the Philippines for its ‘coming out party,’ [Mr. Ramos] pushed for a program of peace and development. He reached out to communist, military and Muslim rebels. He solved the energy problem. Recently, he forged peace with the Muslims of the South and formed the SPCPD that has successfully drawn multimillion investment for the development of Mindanao.”
“He [Mr. Ramos] achieved economic reforms through democratic means against all odds. Today the Philippine economy is robust—with an expected GNP [gross national product] of more than 7 percent this year, inflation at a single-digit level and international reserves at a record high. Both exports and imports have increased tremendously and the Philippine stock market is one of the best performing in Asia.
“During his presidency, the Philippines has regained its prestige. For this, [Mr.] Ramos deserves credit and praise. Among leaders, [Mr.] Ramos has been unstinting in promoting his country and its role in the world state. ‘The Philippines is Asia’s New Tiger,’” declared Newsweek magazine.
“But what of the future? Will the success of the Ramos government just fade into the past? What will happen to [Mr.] Ramos’s program of reforms? In the next few weeks and months, the Filipino people must assert their right and power through a people’s initiative as enshrined in the Constitution to make sure that [Mr.] Ramos’s program of democratic economic reforms will continue to be sustained.”
No names or signatures appeared at the end of the statement by Pirma except for the group’s Makati City post office box number 2897.
Pirma’s campaign to change the Charter was challenged by a protest rally organized by the Catholic Church on September 21, 1997. Police estimate of the crowd was half-a-million people.
On September 23, 1997, the Supreme Court, then under Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, dismissed Pirma’s petition to amend the 1987 Constitution through PI.
To be continued