The Best Time for Charter Change is Now: With President Benigno S. Aquino III

“The President’s legitimacy and high popular trust will make his initiative to change the Constitution most welcome and the least suspicious.”

Wrong time for ChaCha?

In its editorial on July 8, the Philippine Daily Inquirer declared it was the wrong time to consider Charter change, and gave these reasons.

There was no mandate to President Benigno S. Aquino to change the Constitution. His election even meant rejection of former President Arroyo’s failed ChaCha initiative which she has revived in her new proposal as a Representative. It would be distracting to President Aquino whose priority should be to push his legislative agenda. Better to have  his proposed commission to study the need for Charter change, and to effect the change in connection with the elections in 2013.

No, now is the best time!

On the contrary, I strongly believe that now is the best time. The initiative for Charter change is a supreme act of the national leadership. Our new President’s legitimacy and high popular trust (88 per cent according to the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations) will make his initiative to change the Constitution most welcome and the least suspicious.

As a student of politics and governance, I believe it is the primordial duty of President Benigno S. Aquino III to initiate policy and institutional changes in our Constitution by asking Congress to act soon after as he settles down in his presidency. No need for a commission as he has said, or a referendum to consult the people on the question.

A constitutional convention would be the most acceptable mode of Charter change because of lingering distrust of Congress. Why? Unfortunately, with some exceptions, our representatives and senators are no longer held in high regard as they used to be. Right or wrong, most of them are seen as self-serving, untrustworthy, and ineffectual as political leaders.

At the latest 2013 would be a good time for a national plebiscite on the proposed constitutional amendments.

Under PGMA Charter change was demonized, trivialized, and junked.

On hindsight, I believe that under President Arroyo Charter Change from 2004 onward suffered mortally by her sponsorship of it, and by the wrong method of a Constituent Assembly without the Senate, or by the controversial People’s Initiative. On the whole, therefore, the attempts at Charter change suffered from wrong timing.

In 2006 the leaders of the People’s Initiative (PI) to change our presidential system to a parliamentary system gathered the required voters’ signatures in each and all the congressional districts and in the whole nation. But the Commission on Elections refused to validate the signatures. The Supreme Court by a majority vote of 8 to 7 denied the PI leaders’ petitions to compel the COMELEC to validate the signatures so that the proposed amendments could be submitted to a national plebiscite. To me, the PI exercise showed that the people are not really the sovereign source of government authority as stated in the Constitution (Article II. Section 1).

Despite many resolutions filed by its members, Congress failed jointly to propose amendments to the Constitution from 1996 to early 2005. President Arroyo formed the 2005 Consultative Commission on Charter Change and appointed its 55 members. I was chosen to chair the Commission.

We held regional consultations and then came up with our proposals for a shift to a parliamentary system, for creating autonomous territories or regions in transition to  establishing a federal republic, and for liberalizing the constitutional provisions on foreign participation in our development. Except for helping to popularize and mainstream the ideas and issues of Charter change, the serious PI exercise also failed.

Charter Change can be our new President’s foremost and enduring legacy.

For our popular and reformist new President his historic initiative would enable him to leave a major legacy of basic and enduring innovations. And also of correcting the now well known basic flaws in the 1987 Constitution, also remembered as the “Cory Constitution.”

Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino by his heroic defense of democracy and martyrdom hastened the collapse of the Marcos dictatorship. President Corazon Aquino led the nation in ending the Marcos dictatorship at the EDSA revolt and restoring our democracy. In his own time President Benigno S. Aquino III can reform and revitalize our democracy through his transforming leadership and historic Charter change.

If he takes this supreme challenge, before his term ends in 2016 we can be hopeful and confident that in due course our reformed constitutional policies and political institutions will enable our country to sustain our political, economic, and social development and modernization. We can institutionalize good governance and hasten nation-building.



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