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Forget about Charter change and parliamentary system

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C’MON guys, let’s be realistic; hell will have to freeze over before we are able to amend, revise or change the present Constitution.

The only two times that the Constitution was changed was when a dictator did it, with the body politic suppressed from having a say in it.

The first time the 1935 Constitution was amended was in 1973 when the strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos had a constitutional convention draft the basic law he wanted. He then convened the so-called citizens’ assemblies to ratify it by viva voce, that is, by a show of hands, which therefore resulted in no written records on whether Filipinos really did want the new basic law. Proclamation 1102 declared that an amazing 91 percent wanted the new constitution, and therefore was adopted.

The second time the Constitution was changed was in 1987, when President Cory Aquino was still a dictator under a so-called Freedom Constitution. Aquino organized a constitutional commission of 48 men and women that drafted a new constitution, which was approved in a plebiscite by 70 percent of votes in February 1987. The new constitution reverted to the presidential system with a bicameral legislature.

Marcos’ so-called citizens’ assemblies through which he convinced 91 percent of voters to ratify by viva voce the 1973 Constitution. GOVERNMENT PHOTO

Marcos’ move to change the Constitution etched in our collective memory the real motivations for it, which was first, to remain in power beyond his term, which was to end, without prospects of reelection, in 1973 under the 1935 Constitution. Marcos wanted to make sure that the legal basis for his dictatorship was ironclad since the opposition filed a case against his imposition of martial law in early 1973. It was only in 1975 that the Supreme Court ruled on its legality.

The 1973 Constitution provided: “The incumbent President [Marcos] shall continue to exercise his powers and prerogatives under the nineteen hundred and thirty-five Constitution and the powers vested in the President and the Prime Minister under this Constitution until he calls upon the interim National Assembly to elect the interim President and the interim Prime Minister, who shall then exercise their respective powers vested by this Constitution.” Marcos ordered the interim National Assembly (Interim Batasan Pambansa] elected and convened in 1978, which elected him “president/prime minister.”


The mechanism for Marcos to perpetuate his rule indefinitely was also through a move toward a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system, in which the president would be elected by direct vote of the people and the prime minister by the members of the Batasan Pambansa.

It was the same motivation that made President Fidel Ramos launch his “People’s Initiative 1997,” run by the same “Pirma” outfit that has been trying to do the same in the past two months. In Ramos’ plot, the Constitution was to be amended to install a parliamentary system under which he would be elected prime minister. The plot was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court as it demanded a revision of the Constitution and not just an amendment. A “people’s initiative” is not authorized to ask for a revision. The ongoing Pirma plot will certainly suffer the same fate.

Marcos and Ramos’ plans to change the government to a parliamentary system to hold on to power has created a deep, insurmountable resistance among Filipinos against moves to amend the Constitution,

Marcos was smarter than Ramos, though, in that the constitutional change he was proposing was for a hybrid parliamentary system in which the president is elected directly by the people, while the prime minister is chosen by the parliament.


Ramos and other proponents’ proposal for a change toward a parliamentary system involved the prime minister, the head of government, to be elected by the members of parliament.

Filipinos will never vote for a system in which they no longer vote for the head of government, i.e., the most powerful official. To be able to directly choose who their president will be is a most valuable illusion Filipinos won’t give up.

Changing our setup to a parliamentary one that will abolish the Senate will be vigorously opposed by incumbent senators and — even those planning to run for the post. Because of their nationwide exposure, they will very easily influence public opinion against it. I would even imagine the likes of popular actors Robin Padilla, Bong Revilla and Lito Lapid attracting huge crowds in demonstrating against Charter change.

Becoming a district-level congressman requires only a local reach and, in most cases in our country, merely the support of the political clans controlling votes in that locality. In contrast, senators require national support; in the last 2022 elections, at least 15 million votes, the number voting for the last senator, convicted criminal Jinggoy Estrada.

However, senators managing to get such a huge number of votes owes less to competence or experience in serving the people and more to certain unique factors that have emerged as a result of modern mass media’s power in getting somebody to have name recall nationwide either as sons and daughters (and wife) of famous actors, longtime national politicians as well sons of billionaires who are willing to throw in their billions for their son’s and wife’s senatorial campaign. So what, they’ll say,


Being one of the 24 demigods in our political firmament understandably makes our senators think that they have a fighting chance to occupy the highest post in the land, the presidency or replacement for that post, the vice presidency, in future elections.

Why would senators agree to give up the unique political advantages that made them household names that could catapult them to higher posts?

Forget the Constitution. We’ve been barking up the wrong tree, that it’s the current Constitution that is a big roadblock to our economy’s growth. This is the product of Ramos’ vast propaganda machine to hide his real intention to change the basic law — which was to remain in power — by claiming our presidential system is so flawed we need to amend the Constitution. The current plotters to change the Constitution are now using a similar cloaking device to claim that the restrictions on foreign investments are blocking our country’s growth.

There is simply “no science” to those arguments, no detailed study to prove it. Many countries in the world that achieved much economic growth, the US, France and Brazil, among others, have presidential systems. Many of the countries in the world that have become rich, including China and India, have more restrictions on more industries than we have.

Foreign investment restrictions mandated by the Constitution have been the bogeyman for blaming our underdevelopment. Forget about changing it: we’re stuck with it. And after all, there are many more serious blocks stymieing our economic growth. I will discuss several of these on Wednesday.

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