[Blueboard] Charter Change 1

polsci at admu.edu.ph polsci at admu.edu.ph
Thu Feb 6 15:48:24 PHT 2003

To Our Readers,

	The essay that follows is the first in the series that the Ateneo 
Department of Political Science will be posting. The department is currently 
engaged in a discussion of charter change and the issues surrounding it. We 
have two aims in sharing with you these views, as we go through the debate. 
First, to increase awareness of the complex issues of re-examining the 
Philippine Constitution. Second, to invite all of you to participate in this 
endeavor by sending us your comments, or by any means of your choice. 
	You can get in touch with us by calling the Department of Political 
Science (426-6001, local 5250), or sending us an email message: 
lnyjose at admu.edu.ph and/or polsci at admu.edu.ph

Department of Political Science

Charter change: electing our leaders and designing our government
Alma Ocampo Salvador

Charter change may be good for us —if by undertaking it, basic structures and 
institutions can be re-aligned towards objectives of efficiency and good 
governance. During the administration of Fidel Ramos, anti-cha cha sentiments 
were stronger—from inside government, the Lakas party, civil society groups and 
academe.  Today, however, the demand for changing the charter resonates louder—
much louder than previous arguments that maintained that a cha-cha would not 
change our political landscape because new structures would not simply kick out 
bad habits and old ways.  

Fortunately, the reverse can be true. We, individuals are not sole agents of 
change.  In fact, structures that we install ourselves by putting in new laws 
and policies can induce us to modify our behavior. Thus we realize why 
Filipinos evolve as better and more disciplined motorists when they are in 
America, Europe or Subic. Filipinos have obviously adapted to new ‘rules of the 
game’—especially when these rules are clear and are enforced.  If the 1987 
Constitution is to be viewed as a grand book of rules, then changing it by re-
arranging or creating new rules, such as rules of electing our leaders, 
particularly our president and legislators and how they are positioned in 
government, may be able to induce some forms of individual or perhaps cultural 
transformations among members of society at large. 

Bayani Fernando, former mayor of Marikina City has adopted this logic.  Albeit 
an extreme example to show the relationship between institutions and social 
practices, the Marikina case may be used to a certain extent to examine 
specific areas in Fernando’s local management where he legitimized structural 
and legislative overhauls in the city once inundated by floods, garbage and 
crime.  BF’s governance style may be construed to stem from a management 
position that new regulations can shape or even re-construct people’s attitudes 
and behavior. For instance, new ordinances were put in place to change the 
previous system of garbage collection and disposal.  BF was certain that if 
garbage collection were regularized and collected only when wrapped and 
displayed during designated collection days, then residents would respond to 
manage their garbage accordingly.     

Charter change can be a process of re-arranging or modifying current structures 
of government legitimized by constitutional rules.  Let us consider amending 
the rules of electing our president and our representatives, rules that 
determine their terms, the structure of representation (like how many chambers 
of congress and how they are to be arranged), or the rules that establish how 
many parties can be allowed to participate during elections.  While the system 
of direct vote has institutionalized popular democracy particularly among the 
poor, established a government based on independence and separation of the 
three branches of government and installed democratic politics through multi-
parties, these specific constitutional rules have inadequately contributed to 
an elevation of party and electoral politics and political stability for the 
Philippine society.  

To begin with, a direct election of the chief executive separate from 
legislative elections does not provide incentives for our parties to mature in 
issues and purpose. Five decades of experience since 1935, separation of powers 
has not induced voters to take into consideration the party origin of their 
presidential candidate who campaigned in isolation from legislative players. At 
the congressional level, this has resulted in various practices where 
presidential candidates ‘anoint’ or ‘adopt’ into his or her party, candidates 
even if they have disparate party affiliations.  On the other hand, creating a 
senatorial line-up and ensuring that the turn out matches with the party of the 
winning president has since been a wait and see game for the winning 
presidential candidate. On the whole, direct vote and separation of powers 
condition Filipino voters to randomly assign politicians in power based on 
disorganized electoral choices.  

When in power, direct elections of the chief executive separate from 
legislative elections perpetuate divisive and confrontational instead of 
cooperative executive and legislative politics. Direct and separate legislative 
elections do not facilitate a weaving of executive and legislative agenda.  
This structure instead tends to create a chasm in executive-legislative 
dynamics due to law-making deadlocks, unstable ‘rainbow coalitions’, and party 
coups.  Under the Ramos and the Estrada administrations, the effect on congress 
has been constant party defections to the administration party and consequently 
an institutionalization of a patronage system emanating from the executive.  
The current arrangement allows for a President to independently test the limits 
of his or her office.  Party control remains extraneous from the government and 
by experience, the result has been a creation of a politically peripheral 
administration party that takes upon tasks such as affirming executive action 
or building electoral machinery instead of perfecting legislative agenda.  

In the absence of a defined party based position on key issues, direct vote may 
yield policies that can be perversely populist. (Consider why, for instance 
jeepney owners and drivers are prevented from hiking fares while oil prices 

When combined with multiparty and majoritarian electoral systems, direct vote 
can yield to a chief executive with plural instead of solid constituencies.  
This combination of rules creates incentives for the president to never 
endingly expand his or her electoral support by targeting small publics (such 
as business groups, militaries, church and civil society) and to constantly 
rely on survey politics as a barometer of his or her popularity.  He or she 
then tends to become vulnerable to fledgling popular support or worst to 
negative public opinion.  Owing to his or her fixed 6-year term, the chief 
executive is unable to renew legislative confidence, and may in fact be removed 
by either collective action (at EDSA) or by a nearly impossible impeachment 

Existing constitutional rules on electoral choice, its mechanics and the 
arrangement of structures for governing (making and implementing laws) have 
stifled the development of parties into parties of issues and of politics into 
politics of accountability.  In its place, what we have is the kind of politics 
that capitalizes on unique personalities, an election that captures the weak in 
imagination and that temporarily empowers by manipulation.  

While it is true that individuals do create structures and are responsible for 
institutionalizing practices, structures too play a role in reproducing 
individual actions.    

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