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Pastoral Statement on Charter Change

Dear People of God in the Philippines

Greetings of peace in the Lord!

The Supreme Court has decided to nullify recent moves to effect changes in our Constitution through a people's initiative.  We are happy with this development.  But we deem it still necessary in the exercise of our pastoral office to express our mind on these moves especially in view of the persistence of those who are working for the removal of the term limits for elective officials, with special focus on the removal of the term limit for the president.  In these confusing times, we must be wise as serpents (Mt. 10:16), for there may be people "who come to you in sheep's clothing but underneath are wolves on the prowl" (Mt. 7:15).

It is clear from the main advocates for the removal of the term limit of the President that they want to see President Ramos get elected again as President, or at least to give him a chance to run again for President.  The advocates insist on pushing through with the agendum despite the repeated protestations of President Ramos himself that he does not desire to run again for President and that this is his only term of office.  This situation has led many to believe that President Ramos himself is behind the moves to remove the presidential term limit, or that he has at least indicated in private to the advocates for the removal of term limits that he would be prevailed upon to run for office if they succeed in getting their proposal approved in a plebiscite.  This in turn has led to fears that President Ramos will perpetuate himself in office, and that he will have recourse finally to authoritarian rule.

We wish to state our corporate stand as the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippine.  While individual bishops and archbishops have articulated their positions on the matter, especially as it affects the President of the Republic, we wish now to articulate the thinking of the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

First of all, we note that our present Constitution does not allow the incumbent president to run for re-election (Art. VII, sec. 4).  It allows only three consecutive terms for members of the House of Representatives (Art. VI, sec. 7), two consecutive terms for members of the Senate (Art. VI, sec. 4), and three consecutive terms for local elective officials, except baranggay chairpersons (Art. X, sec. 8).  This setting of term limits for said officials of the land was a distinct departure from the practice allowed by the previous Constitutions.  The term limits for said officials were a novel and important feature of the Constitution which our people overwhelmingly approved in the 1987 plebiscite.

The people approved these as provisions of the Constitution which should enjoy a certain stability and not be subject to change for transient considerations such as the success or lack of success of one person in office.

We have been able to test the term limit of the President.  President Corazon C. Aquino, the incumbent President during the 1992 elections did not run for re-election.  She was succeeded by President Fidel Ramos.  It is accepted by many that during the incumbency of President Ramos many things have improved for our nation.  In fact, those who want to see him President again after 1998 are claiming that he has done a better job than his predecessor.  This is tantamount to saying that the no-re-election provision with regard to the President has worked well for our country thus far.

The question thus immediately comes to mind:  If this provision setting only one term for the President has worked well and to the advantage of our country in our only experience of its implementation, why seek to change it now?

The inadvisability of seeking to change this provision of our Constitution is re-inforced when we consider that in the only instance when a president of the Republic ran for re-election and was elected, the only president so re-elected ended up by prolonging indefinitely his stay in office and would not have stepped down had he not been forced to do so by the February 1986 revolution.

As regards the term limits of the other public officials, we say only this:  Why change provisions of the Constitution that have been overwhelmingly approved and have not yet been tried?  Should we not at least give them a try so that our decision will have a basis in our experience, just as the decision to impose term limits was made on the basis of previous experience?

At any rate, we see no urgency in making charter amendments, especially regarding the term limits of our public officials, just now.  This is a most inopportune time for such decision-making, given the suspicions and acrimony which the issue has already generated.  The pursuit of charter changes at this time, especially with regard to the term limit of the President will only generate more politically destabilizing argumentation, debate and demonstrations that will hinder and perhaps halt the momentum towards economic progress which we are now beginning to experience.  Only those who believe the present President is indispensable have reason to press for charter changes before the 1998 election.  But is the present President indeed indispensable?  Have we become so poor and so dependent on one man that we can no longer continue with our progress unless he remains as President?  The President himself, by signifying his willingness to step down in 1998 has shown his own correct belief that he is not indispensable to the further growth of our country.  Indeed, the Bible tells us, "It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes". (Ps. 118:9)

Dear fellow countrymen and countrywomen, we are opposed to the holding of a plebiscite before the 1998 elections, and to the so-called people's initiative pushing for such a plebiscite. Our opposition is not due to a belief that the 1987 Constitution can no longer be improved, nor is it because of a belief that people have no right to call for a plebiscite through a people's initiative.  Our opposition is based on our assessment of inopportuneness of such a move at present and of its grave adverse effects on our political and economic situation coupled with our conviction that the people's money and energy are better devoted at this time to other more pressing needs.  Given also our experience of the not so distant past, and the many shadowy elements involved in these present moves to remove or change term limits, we have reason to be wary of signature campaigns to obtain a plebiscite.

We ask you to also assess prayerfully the situation.  And if you agree with us, let us in no uncertain terms make known our united opposition to a move which will seriously endanger our nation's gains.

May the Lord Jesus Christ bless us all, and may Mary His Mother pray for us.

For the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines:

Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan

20 March 1997

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