How To Revise the 1987 Constitution

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The shift from the present unitary presidential form of government to federal-parliamentary requires the revision of the 1987 Constitution. How can this be done? The 1987 Constitution itself specifies the three methods (and no other) by which its provisions can be amended or revised, these are:

  1. Via a constituent assembly (con-ass): the sitting Congress may constitute itself as a constituent assembly to propose amendment to or revision of the Constitution upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members (par. 1, Sec. 1, Art. XVII);
  2.  Via a constitutional convention (con-con) whose members are specifically elected and tasked to propose amendment or revision (par.2, Sec. 1, Art. XVII); the con-con comes into being through legislation by Congress, as follows: (a) Upon a vote of two-thirds of all its members, Congress may call a constitutional convention (Sec. 3, Art. XVII); (b) Upon a majority vote of all its members, Congress may submit to the electorate the question whether or not Congress should pass a law calling for a constitutional convention (Sec. 3, Art. XVII);
  3. Via people’s initiative; but only to propose amendment, not revision (Sec. 2, Art. XVII);

According to former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, in bicameral legislatures, the traditional mode of amending or revising a Constitution is for both houses to convene in joint assembly and to vote separately.

The clamor now is for a full-fledged revision from unitary-presidential to federal-parliamentary. Hence, method #3 (people’s initiative) will have to be ruled out of consideration because it can only be used for amendment, never for revision.

This leaves us with two methods to choose from: constituent assembly (con-ass) or constitutional convention (con-con). I urge the reader to inform himself of the pros and cons of these two methods by reading well-reasoned articles on the matter. You can find plenty in the internet. Just do a Google search. Don’t rely on short facebook posts which are usually posted by people who are as clueless as we are on the matter.

Articles of decent length are more reliable guide because it is an indication that the writer did some research and a little bit of thinking, unlike facebook posts which are mostly spur of the moment and usually done in jest.

To put in perspective the difficulty of the task at hand, it would be beneficial for us to look back at past attempts to amend the 1987 Constitution. Bear in mind that none of the initiatives ever reached the ratification stage. All of them were blocked or simply died out for whatever reason.

The first attempt was by President Fidel Ramos who proposed a shift to parliamentary system and the lifting of term limits of public officials.

A second attempt, also during the term of Ramos, was a petition filed before the Supreme Court by the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA). The Andres Narvasa Supreme Court dismissed the petition on the ground that the people’s initiative mode does not have enough enabling law.

During Joseph Estrada’s presidency there was again an attempt to change the constitution. The proposal was to relax the restrictive economic provisions of the constitution that they considered an impediment to the entry of foreign investments. Opponents accused the government of pushing constitutional changes for its own vested interests.

Another unsuccessful attempt to change the present constitution was by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. After winning the 2004 elections, Arroyo immediately created a Consultative Commission headed by Dr. Jose V. Abueva. The Commission was tasked to recommend necessary revisions after consultations with different sectors. After a year, the Commission came up with the following recommendations:

  • shift to unicameral parliamentary form of government;
  • economic liberalization;
  • further decentralization; and
  • transition to parliamentary-federal to further empower local governments.

A peoples’ initiative was started to effect the constitutional changes recommended by the Consultative Commission. The movement, whose aim was to gather enough signatures to call for a plebiscite, was spearheaded by the group Sigaw ng Bayan and ULAP (Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines), an umbrella organization of all leagues of local government units and leagues and federations of local elective and appointive officials.

Once more, on October 25, 2006, the Supreme Court, now headed by Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, rejected the people’s initiative by a vote of 8-7. The Supreme Court handed down three landmark rulings –

  • The initiative failed to comply with the basic constitutional requirements;
  • Changing the form of government from presidential to parliamentary or abolishing the Senate, are revisions, not mere amendments;
  • There is adequate enabling law for people’s initiative (thereby abandoning the 1997 ruling in the PIRMA case).

Sometime in December 2006, House Speaker Jose de Venecia, Jr., then at the height of his popularity in Congress, initiated another try at charter change. He proposed con-ass confident that he could get the necessary three-fourths vote. Leftists and religious groups rose up against the proposal and threatened massive rally which was heavily publicized by mainstream media. They do not want con-ass, only con-con.

A few days before the scheduled major rally, Speaker de Venecia backed off on his con-ass proposal and agreed on con-con. The oppositors ignored de Venecia’s concession and continued their protests anyway.

The first time both houses of Congress agreed on charter change was in 2008. House Concurrent Resolution No. 15 was filed in support of Senate Resolution No. 10, backed by 16 senators, calling for con-ass to establish a federal system of government. The lower house was headed at that time by Speaker Prospero Nograles, while the Senate president was Nene Pimentel.

During the time of President Aquino III, several legislative initiatives were made by both houses of Congress. They were bills and resolutions calling for a shift to federal system and economic liberalization. All of them just fizzled out though.

Now, under the Duterte administration, there is again strong clamor for charter reforms, specifically, the abandonment of the present overly-centralized unitary-presidential form, and a shift to federal-parliamentary system that gives maximum empowerment to local government units and the people.

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