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The Philippines’ President Wants to Amend the Constitution Next Year: What to Know

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President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.—the son and namesake of the Philippines’ late dictator—has floated the idea of holding a national vote to amend the Southeast Asian country’s constitution at the same time as its upcoming midterm elections in 2025.

“If possible, we can have the plebiscite in the local elections to be held in May next year,” he told reporters just as he was about to depart for a state visit to Australia Wednesday. “That will be a huge deal, that will save us so much, so that’s why we’re studying it.”

Constitutional amendments, commonly referred to as “Cha-Cha” for charter change, have been a sensitive topic in the country of 110 million, especially since Marcos Sr. had amended the constitution to prolong his rule from what was then supposed to be a limit of two terms of four years each to two decades from 1965 to 1986, during which he oversaw scores of human rights abuses, extrajudicial killings, and rampant corruption.

A new constitution was introduced in 1987 after Marcos Sr. was ousted in a popular revolution in 1986, and it hasn’t been amended since.

But the younger Marcos, who was elected President in 2022, has recently pushed for revisions he says are necessary to accommodate greater foreign investment and help boost the development of one of Asia’s fastest growing economies. Marcos Jr. told local broadcast outlet GMA News that the Philippines’ current constitution “was not written for a globalized world.”

The Philippines has a reputation of having some of the toughest policies on foreign investment in Asia. The country’s charter limits foreign ownership across industries—with a general rule of no more than 40%. It also forbids foreign equity in mass media, as evidenced by a case lodged against news site Rappler and its founder Maria Ressa, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021 for her democracy advocacy. 

Lawmakers have passed several laws that would ease such restrictions and open the Philippines up to more foreign investors, though these laws have been the subject of debate for their constitutionality.

There are three ways to propose an amendment to the Philippine constitution: ¾ of Congress members from each legislative chamber can put forward an amendment; a constitutional convention, which can propose amendments, can be called by ⅔ of Congress; or a people’s initiative can be put on the ballot if at least 12% of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least 3%, support a petition. Still, any amendment proposed via any of those methods must ultimately be approved by public referendum, requiring a simple majority.

It’s not yet clear what path Marcos Jr. will pursue, though his cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, has been linked to attempts to change the constitution through a people’s initiative.  

President Marcos Jr.’s reform plan, however, has drawn opposition from critics, who are fearful that the moves to amend the constitution, ostensibly for economic purposes, will be used to try to extend his term limits. Currently, Presidents in the Philippines are limited to one, six-year term.

Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos Jr.’s predecessor, emerged as one of the most outspoken opponents of the plan. In a fraying of ties between the former and current President—who had joined forces in the 2022 election when Duterte’s daughter Sara ran for vice president alongside Marcos Jr.—Duterte called out Marcos Jr. in a prayer rally in January, going so far as to label him a drug addict. Duterte has since changed his tack, however, saying that he is open to constitutional amendments “as long as it does not favor the incumbent leaders or those who will be elected in the coming elections.”

Almost every administration since 1987 has considered amending some part of the Philippine constitution. Duterte unsuccessfully pushed to change the form of the government, from a unitary presidential one to a federal one wherein regional governors would be given more political and economic power. And former Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, who also wanted to decentralize the national government and empower local governments, sought to change the two-chamber Congress to a unicameral one to expedite economic reforms, but failed.

Richard Heydarian, geopolitical analyst and senior lecturer at the University of the Philippines’ Asian Center, tells TIME that it’s not clear if Marcos Jr.’s administration has any nefarious intent, but it does seem like it wants to use economic growth as “a vehicle” or “Trojan horse” for broader constitutional change. “Obviously, anyone with an ounce of understanding of international economics would tell you that, if countries like Vietnam or China, which have extremely restrictive foreign ownership and property rights, are getting so much investments, then logically…” he says, “clearly, there is a political agenda here.”

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