Philippine Constitution and Charter Change

Philippine Constitution and Charter Change

One of the most controversial issues to be debated -and possibly voted on- in the 2010 election is the issue of Charter Change. To better understand this issue we have divided the following section into:

A.      Philippine Constitution

B.      Charter Change

A.    Philippine Constitution

The present Constitution of the Philippines (Saligang Batas ng Pilipinas) is often called the Constitution of 1987, the year it became effective. In 1935 a Constitution was adopted for the Philippine Commonwealth, when the country was still under control of America. It was amended in 1940.  It called for by a bi-cameral legislature and a President who could serve no more than two terms, which were four years each, like in the American system.  The Constitution of 1935 was used by both the Commonwealth of the Philippines and, after independence was gained in 1946, by the Republic of the Philippines. In 1973 a new Constitution was written after President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. It gave more power to the President, among other provisions. He was also elected from a unicameral National Assembly, rather than by popular vote, and removed limits to the length of time the President could serve in office.   In 1981 direct election of the President was restored.

After Marcos was removed from office in 1986 the new President, Cory Aquino, created a Constitutional Commission which wrote a new constitution to replace the Marcos Constitution of 1973. The 50 member commission completed the constitution in October, 1986, and a plebiscite was held in February, 1987, when the new Constitution was approved with 76% of the vote.  It restored many features of the 1935 Constitution such as a separation of the three main branches of government into executive, legislative and judicial.  The President, however, was now limited to one 6 year term and other national offices have term limits as well. Special features of the Constitution include the creation of sectorial representatives in the House of Representatives (see party-list groups) and certain restrictions on foreign investments in the Philippines.

For the text of the Constitution of 1987, and a history of all the Constitutions of the Philippines, including texts, may be found at:

A.    Charter change

Charter Change, often known as Cha-Cha, refers to the effort by some to amend certain provisions of the Constitution of 1987.  In the present Constitution there are four ways that the Constitution can be revised; people’s initiative (PI), Constituent Assembly (often called “con-ass”), Constitutional Convection (“con-con”) or by a ¾ vote of the Philippine Congress.  All four methods, however, would lead to a nation-wide referendum. 

Fidel Ramos, the Second President to serve under the Constitution of 1987, was the first to promote Charter Change.  Among the provisions he wanted to see changed were term limits on national offices, and a shift to a parliamentary system of government.  Critics charged that he wanted to change the constitution to prolong his own time in office.   His successor, Joseph Estrada also promoted Charter Change, but focused more on liberalizing its limits on foreign investments. 

It has been President Gloria Macapagal  Arroyo, and her supporters in the House of Representatives, who has been the strongest proponents of Charter Change.  She included it in her 2004 re-election campaign.  After the election she created a “Consultive Commission” by executive order.   It proposed several changes to the 1967 which included both the Ramos proposals to end term limits and shift to a parliamentary form of government as well as the Estrada emphasis on economic liberization.  A “Peoples Initiative” campaign was proposed to carry out making the changes to the Constitution.  There was a great deal of opposition to the changes from a wide variety of sectors of society ranging from economic and political groups to religious and labor organizations. One basic claim made by all the opponents is that Cha-Cha is just a ploy to perpetuate the terms of office and increase the political power of the incumbents, including the President.  In 2006 the Supreme Court rejected the “People’s Initiative” effort in a series of rulings.

House of Representatives Speaker Jose de Venecia then took up the cause.  He is one of the former allies of the President.  In 2006 he attempted to convene the Philippine Senate and House of Representatives into a Constituent Assembly in order to propose for national referendum the proposed changes to the Constitution.  Again a wide range of opposition arose, including former Presidents Cory Aquino and Joseph Estrada, representatives of Party-List groups such as Bayan Muna, and religious leaders such as Mike Velarde and Brother Eddie Villanueva, among others. De Venecia and his supporters had to retreat on the Constituent Assembly idea and began to promote charter change by way of Constitutional Convention.  De Venecia originally wanted the election of delegates to a Constitutional Convention to take place during the May 2007 elections.  This plan met with opposition from some sectors, again being seen as a power ploy by the incumbents to end limits to their terms while still in office.

In 2008 a new idea arose, and that was to convene the Philippine Congress itself into a Constituent Assembly which could then amend the constitution.  The manner in which this was done, however, eventually doomed the idea.  In June, 2009, amid objections from members of both the majority and the minority, the House of Representatives approved a House Resolution 1109 seeking to convene Congress into a constituent assembly that would amend the 1987 Constitution.  Because of opposition to the plan from the Senate, the House intended to make the House of Representatives alone the Con-Ass without the Senate.  They felt they could do this since the Constitution of 1987 merely states that one method for Cha-Cha is by “The Congress upon a three forth vote of all its members.”  Since there was possibly enough support in the House of Representatives for Cha-Cha to equal three forth of the entire Congress, they felt they could act alone.  The Senate and others attached the House leadership for pushing this through claiming the Constitution envisioned a bi-cameral legislature and therefore intended that Charter Change would take a three forth vote in each house separately, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated.

Among  the large numbers of resolutions and statements issued about House Resolution 1109, perhaps this one gives an idea of the fears and frustrations of Cha-Cha opponents as to the ultimate goal of Cha-Cha, at least as how it was being handled by the President and her supporters:

1.The term of office of the incumbent President and Vice-President shall not be
2. The term of office of Senators, Congressmen, Governors, Mayors, and other elected officials whose term of office shall expire in 2010 shall not be extended;
3. The term of office of twelve (12) Senators who were elected in 2007 for a six (6) year term ending in 2013 shall not be shortened and they shall be allowed to finish their term;
4. That there shall be elections in 2010.

Opposition to House Resolution 1109 has given way to another move toward Cha-Cha, formation of a Constitutional Convention, the only form of Cha-Cha some people in the Philippines will support.  This has not been without controversy either, but of a more logistical nature. Originally it was proposed in August of 2009 to hold an election to select delegates to a Constitutional Convention at the same time as the May, 2010 election.  Election officials with COMELEC, however, felt there would not be enough time to include a whole new category of delegates to the election and there would be not enough room on the ballot for what would most likely be a large slate of candidates. It has been argued by COMELEC and others as well that it would also be confusing to voters to select local representatives to A Constitutional Convention at the same time as selecting local delegates to Congress and provincial offices. 

During the hearing of the House committee on constitutional amendments, COMELEC commissioner Elias Yusoph said calling for a constitutional convention within the year would leave little time for the poll body to prepare for the election of delegates. He noted that the deadline of the filing for candidacy of national and local candidates is on November 30, and that the printing of ballots would end in January 7.  Yusoph said the simultaneous election of national and local officials and con-con delegates "would be confusing to the public, especially that constitutional convention delegates should be elected by district in the same way that congressmen should be elected by district."

In September, 2009, the House committee on constitutional amendments proposed the election of Constitutional Convention delegates on October 25, 2009, when the local Barangay elections are scheduled, instead of holding it simultaneously with the May 2010 elections. (See Barangay under ”Elective Offices and Government Structure”) On November 18, 2009, Congress as a whole adopted the resolution calling for the convening of a constitutional convention  to propose amendments to the Constitution.  La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments and sponsor of the resolution, said con-con delegates being elected simultaneously with barangay officials would save on cost. “We have previously appropriated P3 billion for the barangay election and the simultaneous election of convention delegates would entail only a small cost on the part of the Commission on Elections,” he said.   According to the plan, there would be one delegate per congressional district.  The Senate will now need to pass a similar resolution calling for a constitutional convention.

Rep. Teodoro Casiño of the party-list group Bayan Muna said with the adoption of the con-con resolution, the house is now taking two approaches to pursue cha-cha.  He reminded his colleagues that only last June, they adopted Resolution 1109, which calls on “members of Congress” to convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) to amend the Charter.

 Among presidential aspirants, former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, of Lakas-Kampi, is the only who has expressed support for amending the Constitution through a con-con.

Addressing another issue about Charter Change for some in the Philippines During the hearing, members of the House committee also decided to include in the bill the election of sectoral representatives that would join congressional district representatives in the Con-Con. Among the sectors being eyed for representation are those of workers, farmers, women, youth, fisherfolk, and indigenous communities.


There have been rumors that the President may run for office when her terms ends, leading to speculation that this is a way for her to return to power under a parliamentary system.  Even Former President Fidel Ramos in July 2009 challenged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to make “a clear and positive declaration" on her political intentions in 2010. President Arroyo has visited her home province of Pampanga more than 25 times in 2008. The President's frequent visits to Pampanga have been fueling speculations that she is building a constituency for a possible congressional bid after she steps down from office next year. Critics of the administration had accused Mrs. Arroyo of planning to run for congresswoman while her allies in Congress amend the Constitution to shift to a parliamentary form of government.  Under a parliamentary form of government, she can then run for Prime Minister. President Arroyo’s son is  Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey" Arroyo and he currently represents part of Pampanga in Congress.  He has expressed his willingness to give way for his mother if she decides to seek a congressional seat next year.