Friday, April 3, 2009

Ways & Means Forward on Charter Change

1. This period before the 2010 elections is a wrong time to undertake Charter Change primarily because (a) there is lack of time to work for a consensus among competing elite groups and (b) the President has insufficient political capital and credibility to exercise leadership that can achieve a consensus on the specific changes and the method of change.

2. If a "surgical" change of the Charter were to be attempted by means of the regular legislative process, a prime candidate for amendment would be Article XVII, the procedure for amendments and revisions, in order (a) to specify the method and manner of voting of the members of Congress as a Constituent Assembly and (b) to institutionalize people empowerment by making the People's Initiative process realistic and less cumbersome for ordinary citizens and their organizations. It is sheer wishful thinking to expect ordinary citizens organizations to be able to gather millions of signatures that contain those of at least three percent (3%) of voters in each and every legislative district nationwide, besides the requirement of 12% of total voters, in order for an Initiative process to be recognized as officially initiated.

3. In light of Philippine history, the primary actor for the success of a Charter Change process is the Presidency. Thus, it is imperative for individuals and organizations that are convinced about the necessity of change to actively engage with prospective presidential candidates in order to challenge them early enough to make Charter Change a major campaign issue and to explain publicly their views on the specific changes they will target to attain or to oppose.

4. It is imperative for various Charter Change stakeholders and their organizations to exercise leadership by continuing and deepening the discussions among themselves and their networks and intensifying the education of citizens, especially the youth, on the importance of the Charter, its potentials, and its limitations. Academic and research institutions should undertake and finish studies on particular processes and attempts at Charter Change in Philippine history and in comparable circumstances in other countries.

These were my synthesis points from the discussions at the Charter Change Seminar organized by the Ateneo School of Government with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Tagaytay City on 29-31 October 2008. There were 25 prominent participants among whom were Dr. Jose Abueva, Atty. Butch Abad, Mayor Constantino Jaraula, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, Dr. Joel Rocamora, Dean Marvic Leonen, Atty. Camilo Sabio, Atty. Raul Lambino, Dr. Edna Co, Dr. Clarita Carlos, ex-Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales, Lito Lorenzana, Amina Rasul, & Ramon Casiple. Dean Antonio La Viña was the main facilitator.

If I may add, it appears urgent to attempt a “surgical” Constitutional amendment that will require a runoff presidential election with only 2 candidates in case no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the initial run with several candidates. The runoff election will greatly increase the probability that the electoral system will produce a strong national executive who can claim to possess a clear mandate from the people so that s/he can have the political capital to deal with vested interest groups and to implement difficult reforms as well as unite our nation especially during times of crisis. If allowed to continue, the current plurality system will eventually lead to a situation wherein a candidate could get him/herself elected president with a mere 20% or even less of the vote in an election with eight or more solid contenders.

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