“System Change, Not Charter Change!” • BAYAN-USA

March 5, 2023

Filipino activists march to Philippine Embassy & White House to oppose Marcos Jr.’s attempts to change Philippine Constitution

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Hundreds of Filipinos and supporters from across the United States marched to the Philippine Embassy and White House to register their objection toward current efforts to revise the Philippines’ constitution, or “charter change.” The contingent was led by GABRIELA USA and BAYAN USA, alliances with roots in the anti-dictatorship and anti-Marcos struggle.

The Philippine House of Representatives will do their final reading of “Resolution of Both Houses No. 6” on Monday, March 6 that would forward a bill to amend the Philippine Constitution of 1987, ratified after Filipinos ousted Ferdinand Marcos Sr. following more than a decade of martial law. The effort is being led by allies of the current president and son of the ousted dictator, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. If the House approves, an accompanying bill would then need to pass the Senate before a Constitutional Convention could meet to propose changes.

“The Filipino people do not need charter change, we need system change” asserted Pyxie Castillo of GABRIELA USA. “The amendments being proposed — especially the lifting of restrictions on foreign ownership — will only further drive a deeper and wider wedge between the wealthy few and the impoverished majority.” Advocates for charter change have expressed wanting to allow 100 percent foreign ownership over Philippine industries and land to encourage foreign investment. Activists, however, point to the disastrous effects that liberalizing industries such as mining and agriculture have had on the land and livelihood of poor farmers and Indigenous peoples.

Activists also criticized the priorities of the Marcos Jr. administration to even consider the costly Constitutional Convention — estimated at 9.5 billion pesos, or over US$170 million — in the midst of the worst inflation crisis the Philippines has experienced in over a decade. “That 9.5 billion pesos would be much better spent on immediate economic relief for families still economically displaced by the pandemic and ensuing economic crisis,” Castillo said.

Berna Ellorin of BAYAN-USA also warned against the threat to democracy the charter change poses. “While the Constitutional Convention in charge of proposing amendments will comprise of both elected and appointed delegates, we know that elections are dominated by political dynasties and massive voter fraud,” Ellorin stated, evidencing a report by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) on the May 2022 Philippine elections. “This convention would be no different. In fact, speaker of the House, Martin Romualdez — responsible for appointing those delegates — is Marcos Jr.’s first cousin.” Activists noted the conflict of interest in allowing a body influenced by political dynasties to decide on important matters such as term extensions for elected offices, which are filled with members from those same families.

“It is no coincidence that this railroading of charter change is happening with the return of the Marcos dynasty to power. Historically, cha-cha is a stepping stone towards the structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank (IMF-WB), which in the 1970s loaned billions to prop up the fascist dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in order for the US government to maintain the Philippines as a neo-colony,” Ellorin continued. According to IBON Foundation, under Marcos Sr, the Philippine debt increased fifty-fold from US$599 million in 1965 to US$28.3 billion in 1986 “The dictator’s ‘Golden Age of Infrastructure’ which included massive kickbacks to his cronies restructured the Philippine economy to be largely-dependent on foreign capital and stunted its development to be self-reliant, despite being rich in natural assets. In return, Marcos was able to plunder billions from the Filipino people.”

Organizers also echoed calls to action coming from the Philippines, where parallel protests against charter change will be held in front of the House of Representatives on Monday, March 6, followed by online protests as the bill is being discussed on the floor.