It seems the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) has extra time and resources, after all.
For just when the public expects that the department has its hands full helping address the COVID-19 pandemic by making sure much-needed aid is being promptly and properly distributed by local government units to Filipinos who need them the most, the DILG, it turns out, is engaged in a pointless, callous venture at this time: gathering support for Charter change.
As the Inquirer has detailed in an exclusive report, the DILG directed its regional offices and supporters to continue gathering up to two million signatures over the next two months to back amendments to the 1987 Constitution. On March 27, when Luzon was already forced into the stifling enhanced community quarantine to stem the spread of COVID-19, Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya issued a memo extending the deadline for regional directors to each gather 30,000 signatures from March 31 to April 30, and telling them the target should be raised to at least 100,000 by May to amass “a considerable number of 2 million signatures to be submitted to Congress.”
Then, on May 11, while the DILG was already deluged with complaints over the delayed, problem-ridden distribution of relief funds, Malaya issued another memo instructing DILG directors and civil society organizations accredited by the Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform, the DILG unit tasked to lead efforts to amend the Constitution, that only the physical conduct of the signature campaign would be postponed given quarantine restrictions. The campaign would continue online through the CORE (Constitutional Reform) website, which expressly states that the federalism drive is still very much in play. Or as the site put it: “Federalism is not out of the picture, it’s still part of the campaign, we’re just strategizing to get amendments in place, through reforming the 1987 Constitution.”Malaya, it appears, has so much time in his hands to devote to outrageously skewed priorities—using tax money and government resources besides—even as the most urgent task for him and his lieutenants all this time is to address the torrent of protests by ordinary Filipinos over anomalies in the distribution of the social amelioration program funds, from village officials allegedly falsifying beneficiaries’ lists to the reduced cash given to many recipients.
These officials do think nothing should stop them from this folly, don’t they? Not the sustained and overwhelming contempt by the public for any moves by politicians to tinker with the Constitution, as borne out by surveys all these years. Not the gargantuan, debilitating cost the government’s very own economic managers had warned would ensue with the shift to federalism (a “fiscal nightmare,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, one of the President’s closest allies, called it). And certainly not the pandemic, an unprecedented public health crisis that has inflicted immense hardships on millions of Filipinos and hollowed out the economy to such a degree not seen since the waning Marcos years.
All these, and Malaya et al. think it’s business as usual to commit the DILG’s energies and official wherewithal to such an inessential, wasteful pursuit. None of the bright boys in the DILG had thought the very idea of gathering signatures for purported Charter change in the midst of doling out aid to desperate ordinary folk would, at the very least, raise questions whether those signatures were obtained under deceit or duress? After those two million signatures are tallied and presented as a sterling accomplishment by the DILG, who’s to say starving Filipinos were not coaxed or forced to sign papers pledging support for federalism in exchange for the cash relief promised them?
Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay provided a cautionary comparison in a tweet: “In 1973, during martial law, Filipinos were gathered into Barangay assemblies and asked: who wants rice? Photos were taken of people with raised hands and used as evidence they agreed to a new Constitution.
“The Supreme Court, controlled by Marcos, agreed to the flawed process in the famous case of Javellana v Executive Secretary. With a new Constitution, Marcos was able to extend his term.
“Ginamit ang ayuda para linlangin ang bayan. NEVER AGAIN.”
The administration has scrambled to downplay the signature campaign, with presidential spokesperson Harry Roque assuring the public that the DILG is “not exerting any additional effort” to push for Charter change, and Interior Secretary Eduardo Año even denying outright that such a campaign exists. But Malaya’s memos speak for themselves, and what they say is an indictment of the DILG’s sneaky, deplorable politicking in the time of a pandemic.
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