ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Signature campaign to change the constitution: Bishops call for comprehensive public debate

Monday, 5 February 2024

Manila (Agenzia Fides) - A confrontation, a reflection, a deeper and broader discernment on the proposals for revising the Constitutional Charter, in order to prevent the country from embarking on a dangerous slope towards authoritarianism: This is what the Filipino bishops are asking in the face of the signature campaign to amend the 1987 Constitution.
"The popular initiative to amend the Constitution is in bad taste," said Pablo Virgilio David, bishop of Kalookan and president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), commenting on the motivations of the committee that launched the initiative, also supported by Ferdinand Martin Romuáldez, current Speaker of the House of Representatives and ally of outgoing President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
In a video conference attended by the media, leaders of Catholic institutions and communities and representatives of civil society organizations, Pablo Virgilio David and Mylo Hubert Vergara, respectively president and vice-president of the CBCP, Pedro C. Quitorio III, director of the Communications Office of the Episcopal Conference, Colin Bagaforo, president of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action, Justice and Peace, presented and explained the Church's arguments.
"The amendment of the Constitution should not be taken lightly because this Charter is the fruit of the blood, sweat and tears of the Filipino people", said Bishop David, recalling the historical context from which the current Charter emerged: the current Philippine Constitution was ratified in 1987 when the Philippines returned to democracy after the dictatorship and martial law of former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. This Charter was intended and still intends today to "prevent the country from falling back into authoritarianism", by creating a presidential republic with a bicameral parliament.
However, in the current constitutional revision project, Congress (the lower house) would vote on laws and decide on amendments, while the Senate would lose its role as an "equal branch", effectively transforming the system into a unicameral system.
"We want to initiate conversations, discussions and in-depth studies in our parishes and ecclesial base communities, especially if there are still forces that are pushing for a change to the charter in some form", said Bishop Pablo Virgilio David.
In fact, "if there is a lack of education and public awareness on the issue, the people's petition will be somewhat misleading," he said, proposing the path to a "more synodal approach " in examining the issue, both within the Catholic Church, "but also in the spirit of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue," he added.
Bishop Mylo Hubert Vergara stressed the need to educate young people about this issue: "When it comes to elections or political decisions, young people need to know what is happening so that they can develop the right attitude to make the right decisions," he said.
Bishop Colin Bagaforo, president of the Episcopal Commission for Social Action, Justice and Peace of the CBCP, noted that "it is not entirely negative" to "amend the Constitution" but it "certainly requires a clear and orderly process." If this intention exists, the educational component is crucial." "The consultation must reach as wide a base as possible so that we can understand the pros and cons, feel the pulse of the nation and highlight the problems facing the country," he said.
Redemptorist Father Amado Picardal, an acute observer of Philippine politics, asks: "Why is the Marcos government rushing to change the constitution? Is it really necessary? Who will benefit?" "The main reason cited by proponents is to have new economic regulations that are favorable and beneficial to companies, especially foreign investors and their local partners. However, Congress has already passed ordinary laws under the previous administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, which make it easier for foreign investors to operate in the Philippines. The Charter change is not foreseen in the government's long- and medium-term economic plan. If it is not necessary for economic reasons, then what is the real reason for Marcos-Romualdez's move? "We can only assume that it is politically motivated. Beyond economic measures, the aim could be to change the form of government. If true, this could be a means to stay in power." Finally, rumors of corrupt practices are also a cause for concern, as in several regions of the country it is alleged that petition supporters promise (or provide) financial support to those who sign the petition. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 5/2/2024)