Constitutional Reform: What it Looks Like from the Outside

The idea of ‘charter change’ is nothing new to outsiders, but being able to observe and discuss the movement as a serious idea rather than cynically dismissing it as the same old limited-focus canard that gets floated every year is a refreshing change of pace.

KGV-battle_of_pozieres-300x233So what’s different about ‘charter change’ now, as opposed to every other time since the FVR era that the idea has been mentioned? Primarily, it’s the timing: not counting the Arroyo initiative at the beginning of the legislative session – something that was anticipated from the moment she announced her intention to run for Congress – the movement has gotten off the ground much sooner than anyone would have guessed. This is largely seen as an indictment of Aquino, and although opinion is still somewhat divided, the balance of the assessment tilts towards it being an appropriate indictment of his administration. From the external perspective, he was elected in a reasonably (for this country, anyway) non-controversial way, with relatively strong support on the back of a generally favorably-regarded pedigree and the promise – though an unspecific one – of cleaner government. In the intervening six months, he has accomplished nothing substantial, has not delineated any specific objectives, and his government appears as polluted by corruption and incompetence as any the Philippines has ever had. With calls for ‘charter change’ coming from a number of directions, the impression is that a significant proportion of the country – perhaps equal to the proportion that originally supported Aquino – is at this early date already fed up with the direction of things under his stewardship. The wide-ranging “mainstream” discussion of ‘charter change’ beyond the traditional sphere of the ineffectual opposition, Aquino’s own stubborn and logically-flawed resistance to even considering the idea, and the demagogical dissent aired by the Establishment-backed leftist rebellion and their self-appointed mouthpieces tend to reinforce this impression – the conventional regime is on the back foot, quickly losing popular support, and as a result, is being viewed with a degree of apprehension that would have seemed unjustified from the international perspective half a year ago.

Another factor that encourages more serious attention from the international community to ‘charter change’ this time is the context in which it is being presented by its advocates: rebranding, as it were, ‘charter change’ as ‘constitutional reform’, a concept which is not only a more accurate characterization of the effort, but which signals a more open mindset willing to examine changes in a more comprehensive and less prescriptive way. Previous ‘charter change’ efforts tended to focus on specific concerns, for example term limits under FVR and a shift to a parliamentary system under GMA, and as a consequence the term ‘charter change’ has become associated, correctly or not, solely with the idea of altering the system of national leadership, and has developed a negative connotation both inside and outside the country. ‘Constitutional reform’ signals a more sober approach and one that indicates a potentially less unstable transition when the transition finally happens; from either of the two important foreign perspectives, the political and the economic, anything that reduces the instability risk is appreciated.

The Road Ahead: What the International Community is Looking For

The energetic movement towards constitutional reform is a positive first step, but it is only the first; whether the momentum can be sustained and the actual work of comprehensive reform begun will be the next milepost to pass. Assuming that is accomplished, the outside observers with political and economic interests in the Philippines will be looking for three primary objectives to be met:

1. Serious action against corruption. Although some Filipino constitutional reform advocates bridle at placing “corruption” at the top of the list of problems that need to be solved, from the global point of view that is exactly what the Philippines needs to do. That is part of why Aquino initially gained favor with outside observers – his own personal record and acknowledgement of the issue hinted at potential progress. His performance, however, has not impressed; he is now either regarded as not having an understanding of – and as a result, no ability to develop a strategy for – the complex interrelation of systemic, economic, and social factors that cause corruption, or among his harsher critics, regarded as being a garden-variety Philippine trapo.

The “grand formula” for constitutional reform – economic liberalization, Federalization, and a Parliamentary system – is generally regarded as being one decent framework for approaching the problem of corruption, because it addresses, one way or another, many of the underlying causes of corruption except for the social ones. In that respect, there is cause for concern; Philippine society is considered undisciplined, and unless that is directly addressed – an area in which Lee Kuan Yew’s experience in transforming Singapore can serve as a useful guide – there is an apprehension that political and economic solutions will be significantly compromised.

2. A legislative agenda to back reforms. This primarily applies to economic liberalization, the current problems of which do not entirely lie in the country’s flawed Constitution. Loosening protectionist restrictions in the Constitution is only one part of the solution; that will only provide opportunity for economic development and foreign investment, but not the competitive advantages that will attract investment and make development happen. Improving the business environment will require the same comprehensive focus on the systemic, economic, and social conditions in the country, and will be a long-term effort. The favorable optimism with which the rest of the world will look at constitutional reform will quickly evaporate if the necessary follow-through is not apparent.

3. Development of legitimate political parties. Regardless of what final shape the system of government takes, strong political parties that, ideally, represent a clear majority and relevant opposition at any given time are the political “system that transcends the system” and confer a strong measure of political stability on the country, even if (as is currently predicted) the Philippines endures a period of “growing pains” that may see a number of different governments in a relatively short period of time, particularly under a Parliamentary system. A Parliamentary system or even a much more formalized Presidential system will help to develop stable parties, provided that any system chosen is built in such a way as to prevent as much as possible the electoral opportunism that characterizes Philippine parties now.

And finally, it is worth mentioning that the point of view towards what they suppose are Western intentions towards the Philippines from otherwise well-meaning reform advocates is for the most part erroneous and more importantly, an unnecessary diversion of intellectual effort that needlessly confuses the issues. It is no secret that the US and its sphere of influence – and presumably, the Chinese sphere as well – sincerely desires constitutional reform in the Philippines and has a number of ideas of what would likely work best for the country and the corresponding international interests. From the Western perspective, at least, there is a simple reality that the Filipino people should consider: the ability of this country to affect what the US bloc does or thinks is pretty close to zero at this point. The US will, as it always has, react as the opportunity presents itself to whatever the circumstances on the ground in the Philippines are at any given time; for the Philippines to insist on a fair input into how that relationship is managed, it must do so from a position of its own strengths and value to the outside world. The best way to achieve that position is for the country to get its own act together, and to continue the momentum towards constitutional reform that has already begun.

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About BenK

I write a column for The Manila Times on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Most of the energy sector and the heads of several government agencies probably wish I didn't.

15 Comments on “Constitutional Reform: What it Looks Like from the Outside”

  1. As long as the Good Ol’ Boys in this country have anything to say, nothing will change. The Tycoons and Oligarchs here don’t want change as they could not continue their profaned ways of bleeding this country dry and running it into the ground. What this country needs is a REAL revolution. A revolution that will give them a serious nosebleed and tells them once and for all, enough is enough.

    1. Agreed, Jim. I’d also add that any real revolution needs people who are sincerely dedicated to the cause and who will unite and act. But when the vast majority of people can be bought off with bread and circuses and when many who speak up are just a bunch of Hyden Toros, illiterate pygmy blowhards more interested in congratulating themselves, thinking they know more than they do, and brooding when they don’t get their way, then there isn’t much to work with. Keeping the people docile makes them easier to bleed dry, as you put it, and when a Hyden Toro comes along and shakes his puny fist, it’s more to inflate his sense of self-worth than to help others or fight the power. So in a sense, having a revolution with the ingredients we have right now won’t change a thing. You can depose the Good Ol’ Boys maybe, but then they’ll be replaced by just so many Hyden Toros who’ll feed off the people. When that’s all there is to look forward to, it becomes clear that real revolution will take a lot more work than one might imagine at first. It doesn’t make it any less needed, though.

      1. @Ben:

        Itong imported na YellowTard na ito, parang sinong magaling…binayaran naman ni Aquino at Roxas…

        You asshole, motherfucker…get out of this blogsite…you are just a mercenary blogger.

        Answer us in Pilipino…motherfucker, asshole, skunk…

        1. Hi, Hydie! Still crawling about I see. How nice.

          I believe Pedro Sanchez put it best:

          http://getrealphilippines.com/2014/04/abortion-is-really-a-simple-issue-if-you-take-the-soul-out-of-the-debate/comment-page-1/#comment-283282

          Hello, Hyden –

          I don’t understand why you have to call me a yellowtard idiot. I wasn’t rude with you. All I was asking for was some clarification. And you were rude to me in response. Is it because I didn’t agree with you or take your side? That’s no reason to be rude.

          But let me reply to you now. You only understand rudeness. So I will be rude to you. You only want people who agree with you and who think how you do. So, candy ass, you should go find your AIDS-riddled whore of a mother at the Angeles City titty bar where she works and climb through her diseased cunt back into that septic tank of a womb she shat you kicking and screaming out of. That would be the perfect echo chamber for you. It should not be too hard for you to burrow your way back through her dusty pussy after all the sex tourist cock that’s split it so wide open you could drive PNoy’s presidential motorcade right through and still leave space for a crowd of yellow tards to howl and dance about like bitches in heat.

          Fuck you, Hyden, you thin-skinned little emo bitch. Fucktard half dicks like you have no place among people.

          So, to get back to business: answer my fucking question if you can, bitch. I dare you. I double dare you, mother fucker.

          Maraming salamat po! Have a nice day!

          Pedro.

          P.S. Next time, please don’t be rude.

  2. WHAT? The International community ,outside of gigantic corporate interests, doesn’t give a good shit what happens in the Philippines.

    The International coporations, for their part, do not really give a shit about who runs the gov’t. or what happens to that oligarchic rag that the country calls a ‘Constitution’. Just as long as it doesn’t interfere with their business interests.

    The idea the author presents about the ‘International’ view and its appreciation of a ‘more sober’ approach taken by its advocates inside the country is ,at best, a good laugh.
    Look, the ‘International community'(global corporate interests) have alredy laid down the tracks for which the country will go down. That path/track will go in the stated direction regardless of what happens in the Philippines government. So much so that as soon as a shift away from that path will only lead to ‘instabilty’ in the form of ‘regime change’ that will look as if it is coming from within, but is not.

    IF IF IF, anyone doubts what has just been stated? Well,UH, just check out what is going on in the Ukraine.

    As painful as it may be to admit, the country marches to the drum beat of the marching band leader and what that band leader is wants played. The band leader doesn’t give a shit how the band is put together and what instruments the respective ‘musicians/politicians’ play. For as long as they play what is being dictated to them to play, all will be well for them. When they stop doing as ‘directed’…well then, see what is happening in Ukraine (the most recent example),Libya, Egypt etc, etc ,etc…
    It may be boring, and difficult to admit, but it is predicatble

  3. The Philippines is now descending into a failed state…it is hard to preventr it now…charter change will never help…

  4. @Ben:

    You are an asshole…you are a mercenary blogger of Roxas and Aquino…what a lowlife you are…you cannot even make a decent living from where you came from…
    that you come here to kiss ass and become mercenary blogger of Aquino and Roxas …

    Why not crawl back to where you came from??? You motherfucker…answer us in Pilipino…Gago…putang in a mo…nagpapangap pang Pilipino ang gago…

    1. Hi, Hydie!

      My, aren’t we friendly today?

      Let’s get something clear here: you don’t set the rules on the blog, so stop thinking you can tell me how I should answer you. You should know by now that you’ll only fail.

      Now, why don’t you prove your claims about me? Somehow I don’t think that you can. I stand by everything I said in my first comment to this post: you are more interested in congratulating yourself, thinking you know more than you do, and then brooding when you don’t get your way than making any real effort towards change. Your behavior shows that to be true.

      To begin with, you still haven’t answered the first question I asked you, regarding your claims that Germany is a theocratic state like Saudi Arabia and that Hitler attended a specific church that you have yet to name. Instead you call me a yellowtard. You’re full of shit, Hydie, and you’re not man enough to admit it. You’re a coward running from your own mistakes.

      Now instead of admitting that you got it wrong and getting on with your life, you cook up some bullshit Malacanang monkey conspiracy about mercenary bloggers. And you do that to try to distract us from the fact that you got it wrong and may have no contribution to make apart from assorted whiny complaints. Real mature, Hydie.

      Hydie: you are nothing but a whiny little crybaby who would rather stay in the pile of shit he made than get out of it. And you blame others for your own shitheap and lash out at them. No amount of crying “mercenary bloggers” will change the fact that you are a cowardly, lying fraud. You’re a disgrace.

      In closing, allow me to return the favor you did me with your obscenity. I’ll quote your friend Pedro Sanchez. Why don’t you go find your AIDS-riddled whore of a mother at the Angeles City titty bar where she works and climb through her diseased cunt back into that septic tank of a womb she shat you kicking and screaming out of? It should not be too hard for you to burrow your way back through her dusty pussy after all the sex tourist cock that’s split it so wide open you could drive PNoy’s presidential motorcade right through and still leave space for a crowd of yellow tards to howl and dance about like bitches in heat.

      Get real, Hydie!

      1. Sorry to burst your bubble but you are the one who should ‘get real’ because yours in an example of a RED HERRING. You’re the one who’s breaking the rules of this blog. Do you have any idea that you are SPAMMING? Seems that you’re…. delusional.

        In a few moments, your post will be deleted.

        1. @Bennie Boy:

          I have not written Germany is a Theocratic state…it is you , idiot who is writing it…Are you that too lazy to travel to Austria, where Hitler was born? Go and see yourself, fuckhead…

          What is your business here, asshole…you are not a Filipino…You must be a lowlife bum, to earn your living as a mercenary blogger of Aquino and Roxas….Or you enjoy having your ass reamed by them….or giving them a blow job…

          You are not wanted here, motherfucker…crawl back where you belong, idiot…answer us, motherfucker in Pilipino…

        2. “Bennie Boy”… I like that.

          Let’s cut the crap and address your claims, Hydie.

          1. You wrote that Germany is a Christian state in the same way that Saudi Arabia is a Muslim state. Saudi Arabia is a theocratic state. Therefore, etc. You really must be stupid if you can’t see that your words commit you to the position that Germany is a theocratic state, which it isn’t. You were wrong, Hydie. So stop fucking around the issue, admit your mistake, and get over it already.

          2. You try (again) to avoid answering the question: “What is the name of the church that Hitler attended?” with some incoherent and irrelevant shit about me being too lazy to travel to Austria, etc. You made the claim; back it up, Hydie. That’s your responsibility. Answer the question already, motherfucker.

          Hydie: you really are nothing more than a whiny little crybaby who can’t admit that he was wrong so has to resort to ridiculous bullshit tactics, such as cooking up half-baked paranoid fantasies of “mercenary bloggers” and pinning your sick fantasies of rough gay sex with Aquino and Roxas on people who call you out on your bullshit. I mean, if you’re into taking two dicks (Aquino and Roxas) up your bony little ass at once, that’s all you. The least you can do is own it and not be such a pussy.

          Well, since you like them so much, I close again with the words of your friend Pedro Sanchez: Why don’t you go find your AIDS-riddled whore of a mother at the Angeles City titty bar where she works and climb through her diseased cunt back into that septic tank of a womb she shat you kicking and screaming out of? It should not be too hard for you to burrow your way back through her dusty pussy after all the sex tourist cock that’s split it so wide open you could drive PNoy’s presidential motorcade right through and still leave space for a crowd of yellow tards to howl and dance about like bitches in heat.

          Get real, Hydie!

  5. @Ben:

    You asshole…why don’t you research by yourself…do you not have any money to travel to Austria? Or are you implying to give me a blow job…so that you can earn your fare?…I did not write Germany is a theocratic state…you are the one writing it…

    You must be a bum…you spend your days on this website, and you are not even a Filipino…

    You try to influence us , motherfucker? People here are wiser than you. At least, they don’t earn their livelihood: kissing asses, doing blow jobs, and being a mercenary bloggers…a bum like you, who smell like a skunk, is not welcome here…

    Answer us in Pilipino, motherfucker…tarantado any dayuhan na ito, nakikialam sa atin…pakialamero!

    1. @Hyden Toro: please refrain from any further profanity. I believe Ben is addressing the issues properly and makes valid points in his comments.

      And there is also no need to speculate on whether a commentor is a paid hack, a yellowtard, or whatever just because he/she may hold a different view. Just comment on content please. Thank you.

  6. @Benigno:

    If this dude (Ben) respect me; respect my country; respect our people…then, I will respect him…it is a two way street…

    Manindigan ka, Benigno…manindigan kayo mga kapwa kong Pilipino…huwag magpa-api!

  7. 1. Serious action against corruption

    Rather than taking actions against corruption, the present government actually encourage it, especially those who are allies of the ruling party. All actions against corruption is just for show, for the people to know that they are doing something, but still as years passed, no one has been actually convicted, its all a play for their political agenda.They are much more hands-on if a celebrity is involved rather than the sake of all Filipinos.

    2. A legislative agenda to back reforms.
    Our present constitution has more loopholes than the one it replaced. It favors the elite rather than the people. Some are asking for Charter Change (Cha-Cha) but many are on the smearing campaign, trowing allegations against it. They say that the ESSENCE OF DEMOCRACY t will be lost, that the effort of those who took actions against the oppressor will be wasted. Who are the oppressed now?

    3. Development of legitimate political parties
    What the sense of having a legitimate parties if the members are incompetent?

    Another thing is that Party List that is encourage by our own constitution. It’s redundant.

    We need to have competent parties, party members that have achievements, credentials, educational background, people who are really have the skills to lead, not people who has skills on acting.

    Job postings have more requirements than being members of political parties.

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