OPINION survey results released by Pulse Asia last Wednesday said 64 percent of Filipinos oppose the move to amend the Constitution – up from 44 percent in 2016. Opposition to Charter change was strongest in Luzon outside Metro Manila – 71 percent; Metro Manila – 59 percent; and Mindanao – 58 percent.
Of the 64 percent opposed to Charter change, half – 32 percent – said they are open to amending Constitution sometime in the future. The other half said they are completely opposed to any amendment now or at any other time.
The intensity of the opposition to Charter change is surprising, considering that this has been one of the foremost advocacies of President Duterte who himself has long enjoyed very high trust ratings. The President has repeatedly called for a change in present system of government to federalism, to provide for greater autonomy to the various regions of the country, particularly the Moro region in Mindanao.
We see a number of possible reasons for this strong opposition to Charter Change, foremost of which is the prospect of having a new Constitution drawn up and approved by the present congressmen and senators in a Constituent Assembly.
The President created a Consultative Commission consisting of authorities and experts led by former Chief Justice Renato Puno. It has already recommended two important amendments – limitations on political dynasties and a ban on turncoatism. These are not likely to be approved by a Constituent Assembly, whose members – today’s congressmen and senators – are overwhelmingly members of these dynasties.
The present 1987 Constitution may have been drafted by a Constitutional Commission, whose members were appointed by then President Cory Aquino, but they were outstanding citizens and respected experts in their fields. Probably the principal criticism of their handiwork was that it was too much of a reaction to the authoritarian government of the previous martial law administration of President Marcos.
A Constitutional Convention with specially elected members would probably be best for any Charter change. The people would choose from among trusted authorities in the field of the Constitution and the law. Some politicians are likely to win in such an election, but they would not dominate it the way they now dominate the present Congress.
The perception that the move to amend the Constitutionis principally to install a federal form of government may have also contributed to the strongly negative results of the Pulse Asia survey. Many fear that federalism will lead to further disunity in the country, while adding costly layers of the bureaucracy. The Pulse Asia survey said 66 percent oppose changing the present unitary system of government into a federal one.
And yet the President’s desire to give greater regional autonomy to the Moro people could well be achieved with the Bangsamoro law already in Congress. The other regions of the country could also be granted greater autonomy and funding under the provisions of the present Constitution.
In the wake of the Pulse Asia survey findings, Malacañang and its allies in Congress said they plan a sustained information campaign to educate and reach out to the people on constitutional reforms. They have much – and a most difficult – work ahead of them.