ASIA/PHILIPPINES - Constitutional referendum and mid-term elections: Catholics express doubts

Thursday, 7 March 2024 constitution   politics   referendum   elections  

Manila (Agenzia Fides) - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. confirms that his government intends to hold a referendum to ratify the constitutional amendments - after possible approval by Parliament - at the same time as the mid-term elections on May 12, 2025, speaking of an "economically advantageous operation". In fact, Marcos explained that holding two votes together would save the state treasury money and is therefore desirable "for practical reasons." The background is the current debate about the possible amendment of the 1987 Constitution using a parliamentary procedure and a referendum (the so-called "Charter Change" process), which is quite heated among the Filipino public. In this context, there are various drafts for the revision process that, for example, affect the responsibilities of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The 24-member Senate does not want to vote together with the more than 300 members of the House of Representatives because the senators would then have little say. The adopted changes would then have to be submitted to the people for a vote. Meanwhile, after an initial negative opinion, the Election Commission of the Philippines (COMELEC), a body that is supposed to be constitutionally independent of the executive, legislative and judicial branches, said it sees no obstacle to holding both votes in a single round. In contrast, the Catholic Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) expressed concern about the proposal to hold a referendum along with the 2025 midterm elections. "It is necessary to ensure that the voting process is as simple as possible, as possible double voting could lead to longer voting times, longer queues and possible disenfranchisement," said the body, which acts as an independent election observatory. In the ongoing debate, several Catholic institutions, associations and bishops spoke out, generally recalling the importance of the Constitution adopted by Parliament in 1987 after the years of Ferdinand Marcos Sr's dictatorship.
“Charter change maneuvers, largely through popular initiative,” said an editorial published in the CBCP Monitor, a newspaper of the Philippine Bishops’ Conference, “are a constant political event. Apparently, this is becoming a bad political habit in the country. “The aim was supposedly to improve the lives of Filipinos, but now” - the editorial warns - “there is an apparent desire to discredit the 1987 Constitution and demonize the EDSA popular revolution of 1986,” which led to the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos sr, the father of the current president. The Catholic groups fear that the plan to amend the Constitution to "adapt it to international economic globalization" (according to the justification of the supporters of the amendment) hides other goals that correspond to the political agenda of individuals, dynasties or power groups. Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. said in the debate: "I will not hesitate to repeat that amending or revising the Constitution at this time would be a deadly experiment, a fatal blow, a plunge into death". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/3/2024)