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Editorial

Sneaky, insidious, self-serving

/ 04:08 AM December 18, 2019

Here they go again, champing at the bit to dance the Cha Cha.

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The House of Representatives committee on constitutional amendments pulled a fast one last week when it resolved behind closed doors to, among others, relax restrictions on foreign investments in the 1987 Constitution and extend the term limits of local government officials, congressmen and senators to five years and three terms, from the current three and maximum of three consecutive terms for local officials and legislators, and maximum of two six-year terms for senators.

It’s as if they they never learn. The earlier attempt by the Gloria-Macapagal-Arroyo-led House in the previous Congress to ram through its own Charter reboot, essentially with the same inducements to politicians such as the scrapping of term limits and any ban on political dynasties, triggered public scorn and outrage of such magnitude that the move was soon abandoned.

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But when it comes to seizing every opportunity to feather one’s nests, the motto among congressmen appears to be “Never say die.”

These leaders style themselves as the “truer” representatives of the people (compared to the 24 senators in the Upper House), with a more direct line to the sentiments of the public; and yet in their repeated attempts to tinker with the Charter, beginning with patently self-serving provisions designed to further entrench themselves in power, they conveniently ignore the results of survey after survey showing that changes to the Constitution are the least of the people’s concerns — food and jobs being the most urgent.

In previous pronouncements, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano himself said Charter change (Cha-cha) was not a House priority. But not only did the panel, chaired by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, vote on their proposed constitutional amendments in executive session; they also plan to push the entire House early next year — as early as Jan. 20, 2020, according to Rodriguez in a TV interview — to adopt these proposals and form itself into a constituent assembly that would then work on establishing a federal form of government.

Sneaky, insidious and underhanded are just some of the words that come to mind to describe these moves.

Rodriguez has defended his panel’s secret voting by saying the public hearings (four) on the proposed changes were done anyway, so the show of hands was conducted among themselves and behind closed doors “for smoother communication.” Besides, some opposition members of the House were present at the meeting, he said. “Wala kaming tinatago (We are not hiding anything).”

Oh? Where are the reports and documentation on these so-called public hearings? Who were consulted, what were they told and what did they say? When and where were these all-important discussions held?

And really — four public hearings, on such watershed issues as a change in government, greatly expanding it at costs that the Duterte administration’s economic team itself had warned would risk fiscal ruin, and the relaxation of economic regulations in such vital areas as natural resources, public utilities, mass media and land ownership that will change the country for good in more ways than one?

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Rodriguez, et al. may not be hiding anything (though he huffed out his rebuttal only after being publicly called out), but they are certainly being disingenuous.

The matters under consideration are far too important and consequential to be left subject to “discreet” approval by a coven of congressmen concerned mostly about “smoother communication” among themselves, and whose first priority, unsurprisingly, are proposals meant to benefit their positions.

As Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate warned, “Lalabas nito, this is a Cha-cha (This, in effect, is Charter change) by legislation. Hindi naman ito nakalagay sa ating Saligang Batas (This is not allowed under our Constitution).”

The Senate, thankfully, has doused cold water this early on the congressmen’s latest Cha-cha attempt. Said a miffed Senate President Tito Sotto: “I’m even wondering why they are calling it Resolution of Both Houses when we are not even aware of such.” Sen. Franklin Drilon likewise called it a “doomed” enterprise.

But never say die, right? So, in the face of Senate skepticism, Rodriguez unashamedly trotted out what he imagines as the big bone that would leave politicians of any stripe salivating: Senators should be open to the move, he said, because they also stand to benefit from it, allowing them to stay in office for 15 years instead of the current 12 years.

That crass, that unembarrassed. Drilon is right: To lead off with such a self-serving scheme “extinguishes all the good intentions they have in mind in pushing for Cha-cha.”

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TAGS: 18th Congress, Alan Peter Cayetano, charter change, constitutional amendments, editorial, Franklin Drilon, Vicente Sotto III
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