TV5 contextualizes push for Charter change via people’s initiative

CHEERS TO TV5 for its explainer on the controversial push for Charter change (also called Cha-cha) through the mechanism of a people’s initiative. The five-minute report provided the necessary background on the issue and broke down the underlying strategy that sets this current attempt apart from previous undertakings.

In December 2023, House Speaker Martin Romualdez announced that the House of Representatives would “revisit” constitutional amendments in 2024. Days later, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed in an interview that the Palace was studying whether “economic Charter change” would boost investments, a departure from his earlier position on the matter. 

Media had already spotted the circulation of the Cha-cha petition at the barangay level and noted the members of Congress involved in its movement. A few lawmakers questioned the process as evidence of corruption and misinformation surfaced. 

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said the president dismissed the initiative as “too divisive.” He then filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 convening the Senate and the House as a constituent assembly, another mechanism for changing the Constitution. From the House, Romualdez approved the resolution as a sign of unity.

People’s Initiative: What it is 

The Constitution outlines three modes for amendments: constitutional assembly, constitutional convention, and people’s initiative. The people’s initiative is set apart from the first two because it does not start in Congress. It requires public participation from the beginning and the drafting of a petition proposing changes. The petition is then circulated to gather signatures from at least 12% of the country’s registered voters and at least 3% of voters in each congressional district. The Commission on Elections verifies the signatures through its records, after which the amendments are subjected to a plebiscite. A majority vote in favor is required to enact an amendment.

Joint voting strategy explained 

The “NewsExplainED” segment of TV5’s late night newscast “Frontline Tonight” on Jan. 10 reviewed the people’s initiative as a process. Amendments can be made through a constitutional convention, whose members discuss and draft the new provisions, followed by a plebiscite to ratify the changes. The other involves Congress undertaking the task as a constituent assembly. 

Anchor Ed Lingao went significantly further than others to examine the current campaign strategy. He noted that this time the move cut down on the steps to achieve change. He called attention to the wording of the present petition, pointing out its limited objective: To amend the Constitution so that it explicitly states that Congress must vote jointly on changes. 

The report explained that, at present, Article 17 Section 1 of the Constitution is silent on whether the Senate and the House of Representatives can vote separately or jointly on constitutional amendments, specifying only that amendments must be carried out upon a three-fourths vote of all members of Congress. 

He recalled that past attempts since the ratification of the Constitution in 1987 all languished in the Senate, effectively eroding the power of the Senate, and making the vote of the House as the dominant factor. 

Lingao stressed that should the people’s initiative succeed, the voice of the House is sure to overpower that of the Senate’s, simply because the over 300 representatives would vastly outnumber 24 senators in a joint vote. This would then ensure the success of any future amendments eyed by the House, regardless of the Senate’s opposition. 

Lingao went on to review the role of the Supreme Court in the failed bids using people’s initiative. Citing the 2006 case of Lambino v. Commission on Elections, Lingao noted that the Supreme Court ruled that the campaigners “miserably failed to comply with the basic requirements” written in the Constitution. Specifically, Lambino’s group failed to prove that those who signed the petition were fully aware of the nature and implications of the proposed amendments. This emphasized the complexity of the process. The people’s initiative is no small feat, but involves more work than some proponents presume. 

Media should continue to keep a watchful eye as the momentum for Cha-cha quickens, both in the people’s initiative signature campaign and in Congress. Journalists must closely subject any attempt to alter the fundamental law to utmost scrutiny. News about Charter change should engage the public as stakeholders who cannot leave the matter in the hands of politicians.