Constitutional Reform (CHACHA) Know the facts behind the controversy. What’s all the fuss? In July 2005, President Arroyo initiated Charter Change (Cha-cha) as the solution to the political gridlock in the present system. Congressmen and local officials supported the move towards a unicameral parliamentary government to replace the existing presidential system. The Senators, however, vehemently opposed the proposal, for it would mean abolishing the Senate. In order to move towards a parliamentary system, the Consultative Commission (ConCom), the body tasked by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to give proposals for Charter Change, recommended scrapping the scheduled 2007 elections and extending the terms of national and local officials to 2010. Both Houses of Congress would convene to form a transitional Parliament and elect a transitional Prime Minister who would govern with the President and Vice President until elections are held in 2010. The proposal to scrap the 2007 elections was met with intense resistance. The opposition criticized it as a ploy to keep President Arroyo in power and to buy the support of national and local government officials who were up for re-election in May 2007. What’s the latest on Chacha? Constitutional Commission On 16 December 2005, after about a year of consultations, the Consultative Commission created by President Arroyo came up with proposals that included: 1. A shift to a unicameral parliamentary form of government The country’s existing form of government is a bicameral presidential system. It has two law-making chambers, the House of Representative and the Senate, and is ruled by a President, seated through elections every six years. The shift to a unicameral parliamentary system would entail abolishing the Senate to create a single legislative body perceived to speed up the passage of laws that would no longer have to pass both chambers of Congress. It would also mean the creation of a parliament that would elect a Prime Minister amongst themselves, as the country’s Head of State. A president will still part of the parliamentary system, but would only be given a ceremonial role. 2. Economic liberalization This refers to relaxing the rules of entry for foreign firms into the country. It also means that the current policy stipulating a 60%-40% partnership in favor of Filipino nationals would no longer hold, allowing 100% foreign-owned investments. 3. Further decentralization of the national government Decentralization involves a shift towards a federal system, a form of government within a single nation-state that divides political authority, powers, and responsibilities between at least two overlapping territorial layers, such as the national-federal and the regionallocal-state levels. It bestows local officials with greater control over their respective constituencies, and is seen by proponents to lend greater efficiency to the many government processes. People’s Initiative (under Sigaw ng Bayan) The political process that would carry on the proposed amendments recommended by the ConCom was campaigned by the Sigaw ng Bayan group (Cry of the People) and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) in 2005-2006. The aim of Sigaw ng Bayan group was to gather enough signatures in order to call for a plebiscite on the proposed Constitutional changes via the People’s Initiative, a mode which requires the support of 12% of registered voters in the country and at least 3% of the voters in each district. On October 2006, the Supreme Court rejected Sigaw ng Bayan’s People’s Initiative on the grounds that the initiative failed to comply with the basic requirements of the Constitution. On November 2006, however, the Supreme Court announced that there is adequate enabling law for the people’s initiative. Thus, this legally opens the possibility of a new people’s initiative for Charter change in the Philippines. Constituent Assembly (under de Venecia) Furthermore, in December of 2006, House Speaker Jose de Venecia (JDV) attempted to push for the Constitutional change process by convening the House of Representatives and the Senate into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) that will decide on the necessary changes to be made. Forming this body is possible through a simple majority vote, but approving amendments will require the vote of three-fourths of its members. Constitutional Convention Anti-Charter change forces threatened massive protests on the political process that could lead to a plebiscite on the Charter change issue. This led to the major “prayer” rally on December 17, 2006, which was initiated by former President Joseph Estrada, left-wing organizations such as BAYAN, the El Shaddai Movement, Jesus is Lord Movement (JLM), LaRouche Youth Movement, Communist Party of the Philippines (CCP) and other groups and personalities. A few days before the major rally, de Venecia retreated on the constituent assembly mode to give way for Charter change via Constitutional convention (Con-con). Distinct from the Constituent Assembly, members of the Con-con will be elected by the public to serve as the delegates in proposing and drafting changes. Constitutional convention is the only mode of Constitutional change that many anti-Charter change advocates have said they will support. Speaker Jose de Venecia challenged detractors of Cha-cha and the Philippine Senate to support his new proposal that the election of Constitutional convention delegates be held simultaneously with the May 2007 elections.