EXPLAINER: The process of Cha-cha and why we should monitor it
MANILA, Philippines — The controversial issue of Charter change (Cha-cha)—or amending and/or revising the Constitution—is once again on the table with the House of Representatives set to resume debates as early as next week.
Some lawmakers have argued that the country’s 33-year old Constitution, which took effect in 1987 under the leadership of then President Corazon Aquino, needs to be amended to keep up with time.
But critics have also questioned the timing of the push to amend the Constitution, especially at a time when the country continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic.
Concerns that Cha-cha will also be abused, especially when among the amendments being pushed deal with term extension and changing the term limit of lawmakers, have also been raised amid the approaching 2022 elections.
Since the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, there have been several attempts to tinker with the country’s highest law. However, none of them were successful.
One contributing reason? The process.
Amendments vs revisions
In general, two changes can be introduced to the Constitution: amendments and revisions.
An amendment includes basic changes that will not affect the Constitution’s structure, whereas revisions entail changes in the structure.
“Revision will mean a fundamental change in the fundamental law,” Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, former chairperson of the House committee on constitutional amendments and a lawyer by profession, told INQUIRER.net.
Revisions include changing the structure of the government, changing of powers of the branches of government. Thus, a shift from a unitary centralized system of government to a federal government is considered a revision.
Con-ass, Con-con and People’s Initiative
Meanwhile, there are three ways to propose amendments or revisions to the 1987 Constitution—the constituent assembly (Con-ass), the constitutional convention (Con-con), and the People’s Initiative.
Through a vote of three-fourths of all of its members, Congress can convene into a constituent assembly and propose amendments or revisions to the Constitution. This body will be made up of all congressmen and senators.
Meanwhile, by a vote of 2/3rds of all of its members, Congress can also call for a constitutional convention that will be composed of elected delegates by the public. Further, by a majority vote of all of its members, Congress can also submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.
Under Con-con, the elected delegates will be the ones to introduce amendments and/or revisions to the Constitution.
The public can also directly propose changes to the Constitution through the People’s Initiative.
According to Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution, this entails “a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.”
Political analyst Rommel Banlaoi pointed out that immediately, there are already problems encountered concerning the process of Cha-cha.
For instance, the Constitution does not specify whether the two chambers of Congress will vote jointly or separately during the Cha-cha process.
“When it comes to joint [votation], the Senate will be outnumbered because there are only 24 of them, so that’s the issue that we still need to clarify,” Banlaoi said.
Currently, there are 301 members of the House. This essentially means that, should the chambers vote jointly, a majority of House members can easily make the decisions during the Cha-cha process as there are only 24 senators.
“It’s a perennial issue. Until now it has not been resolved yet so I think there is a need for Congress to really enact a law to clarify the process. We need a law to clarify the process of Con-ass, Con-con and even People’s Initiative,” Banlaoi said.
In an interview with reporters on Thursday, January 7, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said that Speaker Lord Allan Velasco seems amenable to both houses voting separately for the charter amendments.
“We should vote separately; we cannot vote jointly. We have to resolve that once and for all,” Sotto said.
“Later on, Speaker Velasco sounded like he was amenable with the idea of voting separately. Bottomline, the ending, I told the President, ‘3/4s vote to approve any amendments through a constituent assembly,’” the Senate President added as he recalled a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte back in November 2020 attended by some senators and congressmen.
However, the two chambers voting jointly or separately is just one problem as another issue deals with cost and practicality.
Banlaoi said that Con-ass, Con-Con, and People’s Initiative all have their strengths and weaknesses.
He said that while Con-ass serves as a quicker process, it could also make way for a “President’s Constitution” if most Congress members are aligned with the President.
“Constituent assembly, it’s quicker to do it because you already have existing Congress to be the delegates. You don’t need an election for that because there are already elected officials to do it,” Banlaoi said.
“The disadvantage of a constituent assembly is if the majority of the members of the Congress are supportive of the current administration, then you will end up having a Constitution that will reflect the agenda of the current administration,” he added.
Meanwhile, Banlaoi said that while Con-con can be beneficial in terms of having various members of the delegation, this could also take more time and financial resources.
“People’s Initiative is also longer, slower but it’s more reflective of the sentiments of the people because it is initiated by the people. However, in our experience, People’s Initiative in amending the Constitution is difficult to pursue,” Banlaoi said.
Once the amendments have been approved under Con-ass or Con-con, the next step will be the national plebiscite.
Here, the proposed amendments and revisions have to be discussed with the public for them to be able to make an informed decision in their vote to approve or disapprove the Constitution.
Banlaoi said all platforms—including mass media and social media—should be utilized in educating the public.
“Majority of the voters (public) should approve or disapprove the proposed amendments or proposed new Constitution. It has to secure the majority votes,” Banlaoi said.
“If you have a community of informed citizens, you can make the right choice during elections, during referendums, or during the plebiscite,” he added.
Banlaoi said the public should be informed and monitor the issue of Cha-cha “because the provisions in the Constitution will affect their lives.”
“The Constitution is the law of the land and any law that will be passed will affect the lives of the people whether this law will cater to the vast majority of the people or will only cater to the few,” Banlaoi said.
“The law legalizes the state’s practice—whether the state’s practice will improve the lives of the people or aggravate the lives of the people—so that should be their concern,” he added. [ac]
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