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Will Gen Zs dance to the Cha-cha moves?

by Joanna Deala

DISCUSSIONS about Charter Change (Cha-cha) is not new to our ears. Filipinos have been hearing news about this as several politicians continue to push for amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

The 1987 Constitution, the fundamental law of the land, was promulgated during the administration of former President Corazon “Cory” Aquino, and since then, many pushed for amendments to the Constitution but these never succeeded. 

Photo courtesy: Pexels

The first attempt happened in 1997, a year after former President Fidel Ramos ended his term. At that time, the People’s Initiative for Reform Modernization and Action (Pirma) proposed a shift to a parliamentary system of government and the amendment of Article 7, Section 4 of the Constitution, which states that the president “shall not be eligible for any re-election.” But such a proposal was junked by the Supreme Court.

Talks about Cha-cha continued to make headlines during the administration of then-President Rodrigo Duterte, who previously advocated for federalism. In 2019, Duterte said he would no longer push for a shift to federalism but he insisted on the need to change the Constitution. 

The country’s current chief executive, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., supports Cha-cha but clarified that it will be limited to economic provisions that will help boost the Philippine economy.

But what is Cha-cha and why the young generation should be concerned about this?

Cha-cha

Cha-cha, also known as constitutional reform, refers to the political and legal processes that amend or revise the current fundamental law. There is a difference between amending and revising the Constitution.

In an interview with Philstar.com, constitutional law professor Tony La Viña said that amendments only refer to “small changes” to the Constitution like changing the minimum age of those who are eligible to run for the presidency, while revisions mean “larger changes” to the Charter such as changing the structure of the government. Thus, the proposed shift to a federal system can already be considered a revision.

These two changes may be introduced to the Charter and there are three different ways to propose them: the Constituent Assembly (Con-ass), the Constitutional Convention (Con-con), and the People’s Initiative.

Senators and congressmen can convene into a Con-ass and propose amendments or revisions to the Charter, which will be passed through a three-fourths vote of all its members.

Meanwhile, Con-con is where elected delegates meet to propose amendments or revisions to the Constitution.

Lastly, the people’s initiative gives power to the public to propose amendments or revisions they want to make in the Charter through a petition signed by 12 percent of the total number of registered voters in the country, of which three percent represent each district. 

Photo courtesy: Ryan Baldemor | republicasia

Amendments or revisions to the 1987 Constitution, regardless of how these were proposed, should still be ratified by Filipino voters through a plebiscite. Marcos previously said he supports holding the Charter Change plebiscite during the 2025 midterm elections to save money.

Varying views

With this topic in the limelight, Filipinos, including young individuals, have varying opinions on Cha-cha. 

Several young individuals are not in favor of Cha-cha, and one of them is 23-year-old political science major Josephine De Jesus from the University of the Philippines-Diliman. One of her reasons for opposing amendments or revisions to the Charter is that the rationale for such a proposal is not clear. She specifically mentioned what happened during Martial Law when constitutional amendments were “strategically used to consolidate power” and extend the term of former President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., the late father of President Marcos, to 21 years.

“The 1973 Constitution granted him centralized authority which he utilized for his greedy inclinations, and thus, provisions must be made. As such, the 1987 Constitution was implemented in reaction to Martial Law to prevent authoritarianism and repression from recurring,” De Jesus told republicasia.

“This then just suggests that constitutional changes should be based on clear and substantive grounds, typically arising from profound shifts in governance or societal needs,” she added.

The 23-year-old college student did not see an “apparent significant shift” in the current administration, which would require extensive constitutional revision.

“Given the lack of a well-defined basis, Cha-cha does not have a clear direction and thus, may not effectively address pressing issues or align with the genuine needs of its people,” she stressed.

Like De Jesus, 22-year-old college student Rhyan Constantino from Marinduque State College also opposed Cha-cha, emphasizing that it might just benefit those who are proposing amendments or revisions to the Constitution and not the entire Filipino nation.

For Constantino, the 1987 Constitution is designed to “protect human rights and prevent authoritarianism.”

Photo courtesy: Pexels

While some are not favoring Cha-cha, other young individuals are open to changes in the Constitution.

22-year-old applied physics major from UP Manila Charles Laine Godoy said he has nothing against amending the Charter, stressing that the fundamental law should keep up with our fast-changing world.

“Our country endured different challenges regarding our political system because of the faults of the 1987 Constitution, and I think the Constitution is there to be continuously revised and experimented on,” said Godoy.

He added that the country may improve its fundamental law, given that it has been more than three decades since it was ratified.

“There is no perfect Constitution and we can only improve it over time. 30 years, I think, is already enough to see the results of the experiment we’ve done since 1987, and improvements should be on the way,” he said.

Chesly Mhelrei Donato, 22, also agreed with amending the Constitution, highlighting that it should adapt to the current generation.

“I believe that [the] Constitution must be amended and reupdated once every 20 years because we are in a changing and evolving world,” the journalism major said.

She also suggested supporting policymakers in their proposals, especially if it would benefit the public. 

“We must always highlight the people and put the balance on what approach must be taken into consideration,” Donato added.

Should Cha-cha be a priority?

While she agrees with Cha-cha, Donato said that there are other priorities that the government should address first.

“Mas marami pa ang nakabinbin na mga mas mahahalagang isyu at plataporma,” she said, noting that politicians should prioritize their respective campaign promises to help Filipino people. She added that lawmakers should give the public “a correct timeframe, agenda, platforms, and information” about Cha-cha.

“There are times na binibigla ng mga mambabatas natin ang mga batas na kinakailangan nitong irebisa at amyendahan ngunit hindi naman pala kinakailangan na big approach agad ang gamitin,” said Donato.

Photo courtesy: Ryan Baldemor | republicasia

Constantino and De Jesus also did not see Cha-cha as a top priority of the government at this time, amidst other pressing issues the Philippines are facing. De Jesus noted that there is a lack of public awareness about Cha-cha, especially since it concerns every Filipino. 

“In a democratic country like ours, the government acts as the representative of the public interest. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that people are adequately informed so they can understand and advocate for their interests,” said the political science major.

She also did not believe that constitutional amendments would effectively address long-standing issues such as corruption. She suggested that the government remove corrupt officials to ensure that its initiatives will be entirely for the benefit of the public. De Jesus is also concerned that more urgent matters might be set aside if the attention and resources are diverted to Cha-cha.

“It is like we are just diverting our attention and it feels counterproductive to add complexity and challenges to our country’s landscape through constitutional changes when our immediate focus should be on resolving pressing issues,” the student said.

She continued, “Legislative and policy interventions can be made to be more effective and targeted in addressing socio-economic concerns, it is not necessary to [make] extensive changes in the Constitution.”

Meanwhile, Constantino said the government should prioritize boosting the Philippine economy and address challenges in the labor and education sectors.

For Godoy, Cha-cha should be a priority but he noted that changes in foreign investment should not be a prime concern. If he were to introduce a change in the Constitution, it would be a shift to federalism.

“I am quite a proponent of a federal approach of governance, as I think it is the most sensible path forward especially in our country that is vehemently divided by culture, language, and values,” he explained.

Photo courtesy: Presidential Communications Office

Marcos said that his administration would only support economic Cha-cha and they would continue to exert efforts to attract more foreign investments “to significantly help us achieve our ambition of upper middle-class income status by 2025.” Last year, the president said that Cha-cha was not on his priority list.

Why Gen Zs should be concerned?

For these four young individuals, getting themselves involved in such a political and social discussion is crucial as it will make an impact on their future.

De Jesus said that young individuals have the responsibility to be concerned about the proposed constitutional amendments because they may prevent “detrimental outcomes” that these changes may bring to future generations.

Photo courtesy: Unsplash

“Amendments [to the Constitution] can have long-lasting and unintended consequences for all. Thus, any proposed changes must be thoroughly understood and deliberated upon by the people who will be directly affected,” said De Jesus.

She then emphasized the importance of educating oneself and the people around them. “We should be part of collective progress and be equipped to contribute positively [to] the well-being of our country,” she added.

Godoy highlighted the need to be mentally ready in terms of social and political discussions in this ever-evolving landscape. He said, “Once panic kicks in, we may not have a country and society to live in. The world is changing fast, and being engaged in this changing world can be very helpful.”

Constantino noted that being involved in these discussions helped him to be enlightened about what was happening around the country, while Donato reminded the youth of their power to shape a better world as “leaders of tomorrow.”

Cha-cha update

Voting 288-8 with two abstentions, the House of Representatives approved on the third and final reading in March 2024 the proposed amendments to the Constitution’s restrictive economic provisions, in hopes of attracting more foreign direct investments (FDI) into the Philippines. 

The amendment proposals are contained in Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 7, which anti-Cha-cha groups wanted to be junked. In a statement, various groups under the No to Cha-cha Network mentioned the possibility of ignoring the Senate in getting the required three-fourths vote of all members of the Congress, claiming that the resolution is “silent” on whether both chambers will be convening and voting separately or jointly on the proposed amendments. The groups also claimed that the Lower House might submit the measure directly to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for a plebiscite.

“RBH No. 7 will open a Pandora’s box of self-serving amendments unilaterally proposed by the Lower House, including the extension of terms of office of elected officials, lifting of term limits, and shift to a unicameral parliamentary system that abolishes the Senate and delivers the entire government to the hands of district and regional political dynasties,” it said.

Speaker Martin Romuladez, author of RBH No. 7, said they hope that the Senate will pass its version soon. In an interview with radio station DWIZ, Senator Sonny Angara said that the Upper Chamber would not rush the passage of the amendments to the Constitution.

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