Charter Amendments Aim to Save Troubled Presidency – UP Law Professor

A professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law said that the proposed charter amendments are aimed at saving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the current “crisis of leadership.”


A professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Law said that the proposed charter amendments are aimed at saving President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo from the current “crisis of leadership.”

Harry Roque doubts whether the approval by the House of Representatives of a measure pertaining to constitutional amendments could be considered a “triumph of the Filipino people.”

“We should not push through with the amendments under the conditions dictated by the Sigaw ng Bayan and Speaker Jose de Venecia,” said Roque in an e-mail to Bulatlat. He explained that this is “because of the complexity of the issues behind the proposal,” which he said includes failure to inform the people about the issues that surround the initiative.


“The means by which to amend the constitution should be clarified,” he said.

The present Constitution is open for amendments under three modes: people’s initiative, constituent assembly and constitutional convention.

Roque ruled out Sigaw ng Bayan’s petition for charter change through a people’s initiative, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling of the case Santiago v. Comelec.

A 1997 Supreme Court ruling favored the petition of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago blocking a people’s initiative. The high court ruled that an enabling law was required for such purpose.

“The initiative of Sigaw, assuming the signatures to be true, is out of the question because of Santiago v. Comelec,” Roque said. “There is no enabling law.”

“Unless the mode of proposing changes to the constitution are first complied with, the specific proposals set forth by Sigaw are irrelevant and immaterial,” he added.

Sigaw ng Bayan claims to have gathered 6.3 million signatures, supposedly reaching the minimum required percentage of the total number of Filipino voters. But the signatures’ validity is being questioned and challenged by opposing groups.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 5 the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments passed a resolution providing for Congress to form itself into a constituent assembly for the purpose of amending the 1987 Constitution.

The measure also mentioned in detail the proposed amendments to the Constitution, which included the shift in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary, a provision allowing 100 percent foreign ownership of industrial and residential lands, extension of the terms of office of local officials, a provision for an impeachment process by a two-thirds vote of the parliament, among others.

House Resolution No. 1230, which contained the amendments, was backed by administration representatives Constantino Jaraula, chair of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, House Speaker Jose de Venecia and Majority Leader Prospero Nograles.

“A (Constituent) Assembly, because we have a bicameral legislative department, requires 3/4 vote of both houses, not just the 195 argued by the Speaker,” Roque said.

On the other hand, “a constitutional convention (concon) is an option that the speaker has ruled out, although it is the preferred mode of the senate,” he said.


A group opposing the charter revision, the People’s Movement Against Arroyo’s Charter Change (People’s March), also assailed the railroading of the resolution providing for a constituent assembly.

National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, convenor of People’s March, likened the “tactic” to the scheme played by pro-administration congressmen in killing the second impeachment complaint in August.

HR 1230, if approved during a plenary session, will allow the chamber to proceed with a constituent assembly even without Senate participation. But this had earned the ire of the Senate.

The higher chamber had said that the procedure followed by the congressmen is “unconstitutional” and that it is up to the Supreme Court to decide whether to allow the lower chamber to proceed with a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution.

The Senate passed late in March a resolution requiring the approval of both houses for charter revisions.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. warned the Lower House from pursuing its current track. He said the Lower House “will be committing a grave mistake” in doing so without the Senate’s participation.

In a statement, he said the administration leaders in the Lower House is resorting to “legislative sorcery” in claiming that they can undertake charter change by invoking Article 17, Section 1 of the Constitution which provides that “Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members,” may amend the Charter.

The senator vowed that the senate would not be an accomplice to the “blatant attempt by De Venecia et al to eviscerate the Constitution.”

Clear intention

But regardless of the mode of proposing amendments or revisions of the constitution, Roque said there is a need to inform the people of the issues that surround the proposal.

“We are not just amending an ordinary law: we are amending a social contract which contains terms and conditions agreed upon between those who govern and those who have agreed to be governed,” he said.

Roque said that as it is, the proposed charter amendments are aimed at saving the current president from the crisis of leadership. “Let’s talk about the issues when we are not bamboozled into a decision just for the purpose of saving the president,” he said.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) secretary-general Renato Reyes, Jr. agreed, saying “charter change is in fact another formula for a dictatorship this time disguised as parliamentary rule.”

“The politically self-serving charter change initiatives, whether through people’s initiative or con-ass, add more fuel to the political crisis,” Reyes said in a statement. “Rushing Cha-cha can have a more damning effect on the administration than the killing of the impeachment.”


Roque said the provisions contained in the House resolution to amend the Constitution virtually prevent the elected chief from getting ousted.

At least a two-thirds vote of all the members of the parliament is required to remove a prime minister, also through an impeachment process under the proposed amendments. “[This] makes it virtually impossible to impeach the prime minister,” he said.

A shift from the present presidential system to a parliamentary form, in the first place, will be headed by a prime minister as “chief operating officer of the government” and a president as head of state.

“It’s De Venecia’s way of becoming [the] chief executive without having to win a presidential election. I shudder at the thought of him and the likes of him becoming chief of the country,” he said.

He questioned the extension of the terms of elective local officials to five years from the present three-year term as a “way of bribing elective officials into supporting charter change.”

Also, vested in the prime minister under such a government is the power to appoint the chairman and commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for a term of seven years without immediate reappointment.

This, Roque argued, would not clear the cloud of doubt in the credibility of election officials because it is the quality of appointment and not the term of office which is the current issue, he said.

Meanwhile, allowing foreigners to own vast expanse of industrial and residential lands in the country with no restrictions, revising Section 12 of Article XII in the Constitution, is “a way of further impoverishing Juan de la Cruz,” he said. (

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