Progressives in the Philippines reject move to overhaul 1987 Constitution

Progressive minority bloc lawmakers voted against the proposal that will seek to form a constitutional convention through elections by October

February 21, 2023 by Anish R M
Philippines constitutional convention
Representative Arlene Brosas from the Makabayan bloc reads her statement opposing the resolution for a constitutional convention. (Photo: Gabriela Partylist/Twitter)

The amendments panel of the Philippines House of Representatives approved a proposal to form a constitutional convention later this year. The proposal, aimed at overhauling economic provisions of the Philippines 1987 constitution, was strongly opposed by progressive opposition lawmakers, who argued that these neoliberal ‘reforms’ would not solve the problems that the Philippines was facing.

The 1987 constitution was written in the aftermath of the democratic revolution that overthrew the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and establishes the protection of key industries like mining, telecommunications, and media from foreign capital.

On Monday, February 20, the majority of the House Constitutional Amendments Committee voted in favor of the resolution to hold elections for a new constitutional convention by October. Of the 20 members on the panel, 16 voted in favor and three members—belonging to the progressive Makabayan bloc—opposed it, while one member abstained.

The vote came after seven rounds of deliberations held by the committee, which included consultations with legal and constitutional experts. The resolution states that a constitutional convention of elected delegates will be “the most transparent, exhaustive, democratic and least divisive means of implementing constitutional reforms.”

Committee chairman Rufus Rodriguez, who introduced the resolution, said that it was a “general statement” of the panel and that members will be discussing the accompanying bill later. The resolution, once accompanied by a bill, will lead to holding of elections for delegates of the proposed constitutional convention, in tandem with the upcoming local elections on October 30.

The panel’s vote on the bill, which was supposed to be held right after the resolution, was deferred after House senior deputy minority leader Paul Daza called for more time for members to study and discuss it.

The accompanying bill, while legislating the creation of the proposed constitutional convention, also proposes a “hybrid” model for the convention. A hybrid convention, as suggested by former Philippines Chief Justice Reynato Puno, would have elected delegates along with experts vetted and appointed by the Congress and the executive.

While the resolution makes no mention of a hybrid constitutional convention, advocates of the model, like Puno, argue that it will counter the influence that political dynasties could wield by getting their proxies elected to the convention. Moreover, the resolution specifically mentions economic reforms as the purpose of the constitutional convention.

Advocates of globalization and privatization like Rodriguez have frequently targeted the economic provisions in the 1987 constitution that protect national industries, suggesting that they hamper foreign investment.

House assistant minority leader Arlene Brosas, of Gabriela party, a constituent of the Makabayan bloc, called out such attempts to overhaul the constitution as she voted against the resolution. “Current and urgent problems that we are facing—escalating prices, low wages, massive hunger, joblessness, landlessness—do not stem from the 1987 Constitution,” Brosas said in her statement at the panel. “Hence, amending the Constitution will not magically cure these problems.”

“For us and ordinary citizens, it is difficult to accept that the (constitutional change) talks are being reopened when there is a greater need to discuss and approve significant wage increases, price reductions and strengthening of the country’s local agriculture,” she added.