How senators are dancing, or not, to the first Cha-cha under Marcos
MANILA, Philippines —Unfazed by the opposition’s repeated questioning of the need for Charter change (Cha-cha), the House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved on final reading a bill seeking to implement the Resolution of Both Houses No. 6, which calls for a constitutional convention (con-con) to ease economic restrictions imposed by the 1987 Constitution.
So now, all eyes are on the Senate.
A nod from the upper chamber will turn up the volume of the first Cha-cha beat under the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who had earlier made clear that amending or revising the Constitution was not among the priorities of the government.
But will senators follow the President’s lead and sit this one out, or will the upper chamber still dance the Cha-cha on the Senate floor?
Padilla: Cha-cha’s main man in Senate
Senator Robin Padilla, a non-lawyer heading the Senate’s constitutional amendments panel, champions constitutional changes.
After winning the 2022 senatorial race, he proposed transitioning to a federal and parliamentary government.
However, he modified his proposal with Resolution of Both Houses No. 3, focusing on amending the 1987 Constitution’s economic provisions through a constituent assembly (con-ass).
But Padilla is not closing his doors to political changes in the Charter.
Although he is currently focusing on changing the economic provisions of the Constitution, Padilla said he will push for changes in the country’s political structure by 2024.
Zubiri: Cha-cha’s not dead but not a priority
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri welcomed the stance of Marcos as he deemed the bid to change the supreme law of the land as “divisive.”
“I’m not saying it’s dead. Sen. Robin Padilla can continue with his discussions on Charter change, but that will be up to the committee report only, and we will have to see if the senators will sign it because I have talked to some of my colleagues who are opposed to it,” Zubiri said.
He pointed out that the country should instead focus on enriching the country and its people “who have been struggling with their life situation.”
Zubiri later revealed that the Senate does not “really have the numbers” to push for constitutional reform.
“It will still require three-fourths, or at least 18 votes. Almost half of the senators I talked to are against charter change,” he said.
But according to Zubiri, the Senate will remain open to hearing and discussing the proposals on Cha-cha with the House of Representatives.
Legarda: All a matter of timing
Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda is also standing against the bid to amend or revise the Charter at this time.
“We are not opposed to change. It is a matter of timing. We are in the midst of a sustainable pandemic recovery. The priority is to feed our people and to create jobs for them amid rising inflation. It’s a matter of priority,” she said.
Legarda said she is speaking to people on the ground, who say that among their pressing needs are food, job opportunities, peace, security, and order.
“Wala pa akong nakausap ni isa na ang magsasabi na ang suliraning mga ito ay madudulot o mabibigyan ng kalunasan kung baguhin ang saligang batas. So for the meantime, no. But we keep an open mind in the future. It’s all a matter of need and timing,” she added.
(I have not spoken to anyone who said that these problems were caused or will be solved if we change the Constitution. So for the meantime, no. But we keep an open mind in the future. It’s all a matter of need and timing.)
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva, who admitted that the chamber’s majority is allied with the Marcos administration, said most of the senators are aligned with the position of the President.
“It’s a big input for a senator to really look into it and say, ‘Okay, let’s seriously support this measure kasi walang support from the administration. Walang support ng chief executive,’” he said.
(It’s a big input for a senator to look into it and say, ‘Okay, let’s seriously support this measure since there’s no support from the administration. There’s no support from the chief executive.)
Villanueva noted, however, that while many senators are open to discussing proposed amendments to the economic provisions of the Charter, they want to ask if opening a window for constitutional reform is the only way to liberalize the economy.
“Ang nakikita ko rin, iyong wait-and-see doon sa mga ipinasa nating batas sapagkat doon sa economic provisions, we cannot identify clearly na ito lang iyong paraan–buksan muli ang sacred Constitution, the soul of the nation,” he added.
(What I’m also seeing is there’s a wait-and-see period for the recently passed laws since we cannot clearly identify if the only way to go about with this is to reopen the sacred Constitution, the soul of the nation.)
The laws he was referring to are the Foreign Investment Act, Public Services Act, and Retail Trade Liberalization Act.
But should the bid for constitutional reform push through, Villanueva said a con-con would be the “most advisable” mode.
Pimentel: Not now but okay with ‘substantive’ changes
Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel said the Senate was not excited about the push to amend or revise the Constitution.
“Although we need constitutional changes to improve our system of government, this can wait as we should first address the basic daily living problems like where to get food to feed the family, the continued increase in prices, where to get a job, corruption, the high cost of living and even of dying, and many many more basic problems,” he said.
Pimentel, however, said he is willing to discuss “substantive” constitutional reform, which will include changes to political provisions.
Citing the position of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan, Pimentel said he is open to discussing constitutional changes pushing for federalism and anti-political dynasties, among others.
Hontiveros: Cha-cha will sideline urgent issues
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who joins Pimentel in the two-member minority bloc in the Senate, called the push for Cha-cha a distraction that “will only sideline urgent issues.”
“We should do away with this long-standing tale of make-believe that Charter change will solve all our problems. Hindi yan kailangan sa ngayon [This is not needed now],” she said.
Inflation, poverty, and corruption are among the pressing issues plaguing the country which, Hontiveros said, must be “addressed with aggressive political will and focus.”
The senator denounced the “sense of urgency” about constitutional reform while Filipinos are burdened by other pressing issues.
“The economy is worsening, and the agricultural sector is laden with so much scandal. Redirecting large amounts of our limited resources to Charter change at this time will just do more damage,” she said.
Hontiveros even welcomed the position of Marcos, who said Cha-cha isn’t on his priority list. She called on the President’s allies in Congress to “act accordingly.”
Dela Rosa: May jump majority wagon
Senator Ronald dela Rosa, who filed a proposal for constitutional reform in the previous Congress, has backed fellow senator and party mate Padilla in the bid to propose changes to the economic provisions of the Charter through con-ass.
But if the amendments touch on political provisions, Dela Rosa said he will be withdrawing his support and instead join the majority in opposing the proposal.
“Kapag nakita ko na talagang imposibleng ma-limit iyan to economic amendments…Meron at meron silang ipapasok na amendments to the political provisions of the Constitution like term extension or whatever, that will discourage me,” he said.
(When I see that it’s impossible to limit it to economic amendments…and that they will still push for amendments to the political provisions of the Constitution like term extension, that will discourage me.)
Dela Rosa further argued that if they cannot secure enough numbers to back the bid, he “might as well go with the majority.”
“I can go with the majority kapag nakita ko na sayang effort natin dito kung walang mangyari dito. Doon nalang tayo sa kasamahan natin,” he added.
(I can go with the majority when we see our efforts wasted since nothing will happen here. I’ll go to where our colleagues are instead.)
Go and Tolentino stand with PDP-Laban
Although often mum about their stance on Cha-cha, Senators Bong Go and Francis Tolentino are members of the PDP-Laban faction chaired by former President Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte had always been vocal about his goal to have the Philippines shift to a federal government through constitutional reform.
But in the 19th Congress, PDP-Laban backed Padilla’s bid to amend or revise the economic provisions of the Charter through con-ass.
Even if the Cha-cha bid is facing a seemingly unpromising fate in the Senate, Padilla has since expressed trust that his fellow PDP-Laban members – dela Rosa, Go, and Tolentino – will sign his proposal.
Marcos: A bid that’s dead on arrival
Marcos deemed the 1987 Constitution an “anti-Marcos document” since it was drafted by a convention that was created after the ouster of her father – the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
But despite this, she parroted the position of her brother, President Marcos, saying that amending or revising the Charter is not a priority.
The bid to tinker with the Constitution, Marcos said, is “dead on arrival” this early on in the Senate since her fellow lawmakers are aligned with the position of the chief executive.
“We need to focus on inflation, corruption, jobs and many more important things right now. The damage to our economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic is apparent to everyone,” she added.
Binay: Prioritize solutions to the country’s problems
Senator Nancy Binay pointed out that if the proposal is to tinker with the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, there are already three economic liberalization laws–Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and Foreign Investment Act–which aim “to boost our economy and global competitiveness.”
The laws, she noted, intend to address the lapses in the Constitution by easing foreign equity limitations in the industries of utilities, power, telecommunications, infrastructure, transport, and aviation.
Binay echoed the sentiment that talks on Cha-cha are “divisive” as she stressed the need to come together instead to prepare for a possible global recession.
“Dapat doon tayo mag-focus sa mga isyu na direktang nakakabit sa sikmura tulad ng presyo ng mga pangunahing bilihin, mga problema sa agrikultura, tutukan natin ang health sector at bigyang pansin yung mga isyu sa marginalized sectors kagaya ng ating mga magsasaka’t mamamalakaya, at talagang mahaba-haba pa ang listahan ng mga problema natin,” she said.
(We should focus on issues directly tied to the needs of the people like the cost of basic commodities, problems in agriculture, the health sector, and issues concerning the marginalized sector like farmers and fishers. There’s quite a long list of these problems of ours.)
Poe: No need at the moment
Senator Grace Poe said there are already passed laws “meant to encourage more investments, employment, and economic growth.”
“As for the economic provisions, we’ve passed major legislation that clarified the economic provisions of the Constitution…There’s no need at the moment for a constituent assembly, unless the proponents are pushing for another agenda,” she explained.
But Poe said she may still meet with economic managers to weigh the benefits of Cha-cha and pin down what changes need to be made to the economic provisions of the Constitution.
Gatchalian: ‘Narrow’ changes to economic provisions
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian had filed a resolution seeking to loosen the economic grips of the 1987 Constitution, particularly provisions concerning education, media, advertising, and national patrimony.
“In my opinion, itong apat can be dealt with through con-ass…I don’t agree with kapag pag-usapan natin ang political provisions, especially on term extension or anything political. Ang akin, very narrow–four provisions in the constitution that deal with economic effects,” he said.
(I believe these four can be dealt with through con-ass…I don’t agree with it if it tackles political provisions, especially on term extension or anything political. For me, it’s just narrow–those provisions in the constitution that deal with economic effects.)
Estrada: No to term extensions
After making a successful Senate comeback, Senator Jinggoy Estrada clarified that he opposes any proposal seeking to extend the term of government officials, including the President and the Vice President.
“You can revisit the Constitution, or you can tinker with the Constitution as long as you don’t touch all the term limits of the national and local officials,” he said.
Estrada said he is “meticulous” about this proposal since the public will only blame the lawmakers who play a hand in modifying the constitutional term limits of government officials.
Estrada later said changing up the decades-old Constitution was “long overdue.”
Citing issues on overall cost and the expected composition of elected con-con delegates, Estrada has likewise expressed inclination toward con-ass as the mode for constitutional reform versus doing it via con-con.
Citing concerns on the overall cost and expected composition of elected con-con delegates, Estrada likewise expressed inclination toward con-ass as the mode for constitutional reform.