We Wrote It, So It Must Be Right: The Arguments Against Charter Change

20061114_sheepFor all the histrionic dissent against the idea of charter change, it is not easy to find a clear explanation of exactly why so many people are against it. A recently-launched Facebook group, however, provides a link to a manifesto published by a group calling itself the “People’s Movement Against Charter Change”, who provide five reasons for their opposition. The hysterically specious nature of these arguments is frankly shocking coming from a group of supposed leaders of “civil society,” and should be gravely disturbing to anyone who hopes for real progress in this country:

1. “Charter Change is a ploy to perpetuate Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in power by setting aside serious questions about her legitimacy and legalizing her term until 2010 and perhaps beyond.”

This is pure demagoguery, pandering to the fears and prejudices the ‘oppositionists’ themselves planted among a population with extraordinarily poor critical thinking skills. The “serious questions” about Arroyo’s “legitimacy” is simply a matter of public debate, all attempts to address it through the formal means of impeachment having failed. The charter change process does not proscribe continued public debate on this or any other matter, nor does charter change in itself prevent the pursuit of another impeachment attempt (although other unrelated legal provisions do). Charter change is also not needed to “legalize” Arroyo’s term until 2010; the fact that she is the duly-elected president and has not been removed from office through the constitutionally-provided means has already “legalized” her term. Anything “beyond” that is a matter of idle speculation, unless or until some law or amendment on the subject is actually proposed.

As it so happens, the most recent proposal for the charter change process would provide no opportunity for Arroyo to extend her rule. Delegates to the Constitutional Convention would be elected during the scheduled May 2010 elections and begin their work in July 2010, which would result in actual amendments to the Constitution in October 2011 at the earliest. Arroyo could conceivably stand for election to either Congress or the Convention, or possibly both, but she would have to wait for over a year for her first opportunity to return as the head of state. If the result of the charter change was a Parliamentary form of government, she would at that point still have to form a majority coalition in the Parliament in order to be elected Prime Minister. It is a plausible scenario, certainly, but one that only becomes possible after a significant period of time, and only if an as-yet unknown number of variables work in Arroyo’s favor. Occam’s Razor was apparently not well-explained in whatever logic or philosophy courses the ‘oppositionists’ took in school.

2. “Charter Change may be used to resurrect martial law.
a. The 60-day limit to martial law and suspension of writ is removed.
b. Congress may not revoke the proclamation of martial law or writ suspension.
c. The Supreme Court can no longer review the factual basis for the declaration of martial law.
d. There will be a new ground for declaring martial law which is vague and open to abuse.
e. Under transitory provisions, Mrs. Arroyo will have additional power to dissolve Parliament.”

This again is fear-mongering through a speculative, straw-man argument. There is no basis for arguing that charter change will result in any of these proposals being made. By the same token, there is no basis for arguing that they will not be; that would be equally speculative. If these or similar proposals that provide for martial law are made during the charter change process, they should in my opinion be vigorously challenged, but until the proposals are actually made, there is little point in discussing the issue. If there is any value at all to the assertion of the ‘oppositionists’ that “Charter Change may be used to resurrect martial law,” it is as a warning to the members of any Constitutional Convention that provisions for martial law will not be tolerated. It is not, however, a valid argument against charter change in its entirety.

3. “Charter Change will sell out national patrimony and economy.
a. Foreign entities will be granted the right to own residential, commercial and industrial land.
b. Foreign entities will be allowed to exploit natural resources.
c. Foreign entities will be allowed to control and/or operate public utilities such as water,
electricity and telecommunications.”

More speculation, but perhaps these potential changes to the Constitution are worth examining hypothetically. Easing restrictions on foreign ownership will encourage more value-added foreign investment and competition. Natural resources that are economically and technologically beyond the reach of Philippine companies can be made available. The quality, efficiency, and reliability of public utilities will be improved and made available to more people with the aid of foreign technology and management. That is not to say that rational limits and conditions to protect the best interests of the environment and the people should not be put in place, but the faulty sort of autarky that is the current Philippine economic structure clearly is not protecting the country’s best interests. For a country that derives over 13% of its GDP from foreign direct investment and OFW remittances, the appeal to “national patrimony” is disingenuous at best.

4. “Charter Change can further undermine our national identity and culture as it will also allow foreign ownership of mass media, schools and advertising firms.”

This is the same argument as #3, spun with the appeal to “identity and culture” rather than “patrimony,” perhaps as an easier-to-understand notion for the masa than the latter. It is difficult to see how “national identity and culture” that does not exist in a coherent, defined form in the first place could be “undermined” any further by foreign influence when, for example:

5. “Charter Change will degrade national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
a. It will pave the way for the return of foreign military bases.
b. There will be no limit to the entry of foreign troops and facilities.
c. Ratification of treaties and other international agreements favoring foreign interests will be
made easier.”

These assertions are a thinly-veiled reference to the continued occupation of the Moro homeland by the Republic of the Philippines. The MOA-AD that could have signalled the beginning of a fair resolution to the conflict was declared unconstitutional, necessitating changes in the Constitution to make the long-overdue peace possible. For all their grand pronouncements about supporting “democracy” and “human rights,” the ‘oppositionists’ do not seem to have a problem with subjugating a land and people with whom they have little in common culturally, linguistically, or geographically, and who were not an integral part of the rest of the country before the beginning of the 20th century. The plaint against “the return of foreign military bases” refers to the US, but is about 20 years out of date; with economic conditions, American public opinion, and 21st-century military doctrine all contraindicating the expansion of permanent overseas US military presence, the return of American military personnel or facilities is extremely unlikely.

The logical flaw in the widespread (or at least very noisy and noticeable) calls to stop charter change from taking place is that, without exception, these points of view are based on possible outcomes of charter change, rather than on the process itself. It is a fallacious position for anyone who professes to support democracy to hold, morally no different than calling for an election to be cancelled because of the possibility that the candidate one does not prefer might win. Certainly, the output of a Constitutional Convention might prove to be unacceptable, but there is no way to know that until there is actually some output worth debating. Democracy is not easy, and its results are not guaranteed; if the fear of the unknown is too great for the people to face, perhaps they should consider an alternative that takes that responsibility from them.


About bkritz

I'm a writer, and I do things my own way. That might sound cool to you, unless you're one of the people who actually knows me, in which case you're probably shaking your head in exasperation at the depth of that understatement.
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7 Responses to We Wrote It, So It Must Be Right: The Arguments Against Charter Change

  1. BongV says:

    “Charter Change will sell out national patrimony and economy”.

    Great rebuttals! Come to think of it – the patrimony is already sold out to the local economic elite. They don’t want competition in the market 🙂

  2. BenK says:

    “Charter Change will sell out national patrimony” = “We will have to operate in a competitive business environment”.

    Well ain’t that a bitch, huh?

  3. benign0 says:

    The irony here is that the very people who wave their fists in the name of democracy are the very ones who fear its outcomes.

  4. 3. “Charter Change will sell out national patrimony and economy.
    a. Foreign entities will be granted the right to own residential, commercial and industrial land.
    b. Foreign entities will be allowed to exploit natural resources.
    c. Foreign entities will be allowed to control and/or operate public utilities such as water,
    electricity and telecommunications.”

    I find that section particularly laughable.  These are the same zero sum game thinkers that championed Filipino First and other devastating economic policies that resulted in the Philippines’ current sad economic state.  We need foreign investment to spur economic growth and provide competition to increase Pinoy purchasing power.  Also, keeping the current anti-competitive measures in the Constitution wrongly assumes that there’s a large cadre of local capitalists that can fill the void created the discouragement of foreign investment.  As the recent Smartmatic situation makes clear, most local pinoy companies don’t have capital and enter into sham “full funding” schemes with foreign “minority” partners (minority in name only, majority in actual capital put up) to meet constitutional muster.

    The constitution needs to be changed for the economy to get a chance at real competitive growth.

  5. Filo says:

    The tricky part is, how do you convince people that those who call themselves “civil society” and oppose Charter Change are the same ones protecting the disfavored status quo?

  6. BenK says:

    @Filo, the obvious (although it is possibly not the best) answer is to spread this around. If you agree with this thesis: “Charter Change is a constitutional process that will allow the people themselves to decide on changes to the Constitution” and this one “Charter Change can allow changes to the Constitution that will provide a more stable, honest government, more economic opportunities for all Filipinos, and end violent rebellion in the country” then link this to everyone and every place you can think of. Contact the Congressmen who sponsored measures addressed by the TWG and enlist their help – they are masters of pandering to the masses. Debate the people who raise the demagogical arguments against charter change, and call them on their bullshit. Make them back up their assertions with fact or reason, and stupidity and hidden motives will out.
    That’s the upper road. If that doesn’t seem to be working, get back to me and I’ll give you some moves out of the Dick Daley/Rahm Emmanuel playbook. (Which, if I were in my own country, is how I would prefer to do things. Screw the high road, we gotta get things handled.)

  7. uncle pinoy says:

    The constitution should also be changed to reduce and simplify government. Why do we need 24 senators who do not represent any constituencies while getting hundreds of millions of pesos in pork barrel? They are nothing more than “little presidents” with no real responsibilities. We can reduce the number of representatives in the House (why elect 250 knuckleheads when 100 will do?). Here are some cabinet-level positions we can downgrade to agencies or bureaus: tourism, science and technology, environment and natural resources, agrarian reform, energy and maybe take out culture and sports from DECS.

    Part of the funds “saved” can be used to raise salaries of civil servants which may minimize corruption.

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