Manila: The Catholic Church hierarchy in the Philippines has reiterated its position that any moves to amend the country’s constitution requires widespread participation by the people.

“Amending the fundamental law of the land, so carefully crafted for the common good after years of dictatorship, requires widespread peoples’ participation and consultation, unity of vision, transparency, and relative serenity that allows for rational discussion and debate,” said Archbishop Romulo Valles, president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

The CBCP reaction was issued in the midst of efforts in the Senate and the House of Representatives to amend the 30-year-old statute. President Rodrigo Duterte during his campaign speeches had said that among the changes he would set in motion would be to amend the charter.

Critics had said that the three-decade-old charter is already archaic and requires more flexibility given the sweeping changes taking place in the world stage in the age of globalisation.

The Church had been the most vocal in resisting the efforts to change the charter in the past.

During the administration of President Fidel Ramos, the Catholic Church mobilised tens of thousands of people in peaceful mass demonstrations against charter change during the early 1990s.

Valles said that while the Church is aware that amendments are necessary in the Constitution, its stand on the matter remains “consistent.”

The Catholic Church maintains that its stand on the issue is anchored on Church teachings.

“On the matter of changing the 1987 Constitution, the CBCP has declared its moral stand not only once but at least five times since 1987. We began with a moral judgement in 1986 declaring that, though imperfect, the provisions of the draft 1987 Constitution were consistent with the Gospel.

In subsequent attempts at Charter change by our legislators, our moral stand was and remains consistent,” Valles said in a pastoral guideline issued by the CBCP.

Valles likewise said the Catholic Church maintains that in any effort to amend the charter, the government should be transparent, accountable and clear with its motives.

“When the move for Charter change becomes self-serving, such as when it calls for ‘No-El’ (no elections) and pushes for an extension of terms of office, it is to be expected that citizens would react with suspicion, astonishment and exasperation.

“In addition the feeling of a creeping dictatorship is conjured by past experience. Moreover, political dynasties are really and factually becoming a dominant factor in our country’s political life,” he said.

Reacting to Valles’ insinuations of a “creeping dictatorship” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said there is no such efforts to bring dictatorship through unilateral moves to amend the charter.

“We cannot understand his arguments on the so-called creeping dictatorship. The Constitution is very clear on the three ways the charter can be amended and these are only through constitutional convention, constituent assembly and the people’s initiative,” Roque said in a radio interview on Wednesday.

This makes the argument of a “creeping dictatorship” not valid, Roque says.