The plan for constitutional amendments has been compared to a dance, which among metaphor-conscious Filipinos followed naturally from the use of “cha cha” as shorthand for it. Cha cha DIs have indeed been trying to lure everyone onto the dance floor through various inducements, among them the promise of relief from poverty, which they claim’s the result of a perennial gridlock between the President and Congress. But most Filipinos won’t dance, and it’s not so much because they think federalism and a parliamentary form of government won’t work. It’s because they doubt the motives of their champions.

Before July the result had been a dance floor littered with DIs dancing with themselves, while most of the would-be instructees have left the building. But if you think the dance hall owners and the DIs had packed up and gone out of business, think again. Despite a less than lukewarm public reception, they’ve persisted all these years. They’ve carried the campaign to schools and universities, to business groups and academia, to civil society and the media, where at least the issue has somehow remained alive, if not well and kicking.

But their persistence seems about to pay off, this time driven by the need for lasting peace in Mindanao, which these days has replaced world peace in the ambitions of local beauty pageant contestants. The Arroyo regime says that hope is about to be a reality — provided an autonomous Bangsamoro state, currently bearing the innocuous title of Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE), is created within a federal system. The current Philippine state being presidential and unitary, such a system has to be put in place through constitutional amendments.

The lawyers — at least most of them — say there’s nothing wrong with amending the constitution to accommodate such changes, provided they’re sanctioned by the citizenry through a plebiscite. The Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front mandates such a plebiscite. So that at least is settled.

Meanwhile, advocacy of federalism and the parliamentary system — the key components of the Constitutional amendments that are being proposed and that would make room for the BJE — has centered on the decentralization of powers both would supposedly enhance, and on their supposedly being more flexible and development friendly than the present unitary, presidential system.

The advocates of these changes and others mentioned in the past, as well as those likely to surface only when the proposed constituent assembly is in place, are not necessarily moved by the same motives. Despite mass cynicism over the intentions of politicians and even those academics arguing for amendments, there’s nevertheless the likelihood that some are moved by a sincere and patriotic desire for change through an amended constitution. On the other hand, it isn’t just a possibility but a proven fact that others are on the same bandwagon to further their selfish interests.

The main suspect is — who else? — Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who was convinced of the “need” for amendments in the aftermath of the scandal over the 2004 elections, and who would be among the beneficiaries of a shift to a parliamentary form of government through either a term extension beyond 2010, or a subsequent opportunity to run as MP (Member of Parliament) and to be elected President or Prime Minister by her own party members, who would most certainly dominate the contemplated Parliament.

As if the prospect of a prolonged reign by the most unpopular president the country has ever had, and of her cohort in Congress (morphed into MPs) were not dismal enough, charter change is not likely to end with the creation of a federal system and a parliamentary form of government.

The most likely vehicle of constitutional amendments is through a constituent assembly of Congress, as called for in Aquilino Pimentel’s Senate Resolution No. 10, which would most certainly result in its members’ guarding and enhancing their interests via whatever amendments they’ll propose.

Whatever the vehicle, the amendments proposed will almost certainly include changes in the Bill of Rights (among the proposals: amending Article III Section 4 to read “No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech…”), in those provisions that protect the country’s natural resources and mass media from foreign ownership, and those that make the declaration of martial law — and therefore the imposition of dictatorship — more difficult than it was under the 1936 and 1973 Constitutions. But don’t think that’s all — the politicians will come up with other horrors most people are too naive to anticipate.

Under existing conditions, constitutional amendments would result in everyone’s — the politicians first and those foreign interests eager to get their claws on this country’s resources second — except the Filipino people’s getting their fondest wishes.

Cha cha isn’t a dance; it’s a ploy similar to that of the raptor’s which, in the film Jurassic Park, distracted a hunter long enough to tear him to shreds. As the hunter exclaimed before razor-sharp teeth silenced him forever: “Clever girl!”


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *