Well, that didn’t take long. Just days after top brass of the Department of the Interior and Local Government tried, with the straightest of faces, to make the earnest case that the latest push for Charter amendments—supposedly spearheaded by the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP), headed by Narvacan, Ilocos Sur Mayor Luis “Chavit” Singson—was all about the need to spread economic prosperity to the countryside by institutionalizing higher revenue allotments for local government units, Singson himself let the cat out of the bag with a none-too-surprising reveal: The mayors also want not only term extensions, but the wholesale lifting of term limits for local chief executives.
In a radio interview, Singson said elections for LGU officials should be held every five years (the 1987 Constitution sets it at three), and that the current ban on officials running after three consecutive three-year terms should be junked. “Why limit the terms of performing mayors? There’s no difference; limit their terms and their spouses or their children will succeed them,” he argued, as quoted in a Philippine Star report.Per the DILG statement trumpeting the league’s support for the Duterte administration’s Charter-change drive, the LMP resolution made mention of only two amendments it wants to pursue: “to institutionalize the so-called Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court in the Constitution and the lifting of restrictions on foreign investment in industries currently limited to Filipinos.” (Interior Secretary Eduardo M. Año: “This is a welcome development. The municipal mayors themselves have spoken and recognized the urgency of amending the Constitution because they recognize the greater need for regional development, particularly in terms of health infrastructure, facilities and equipment, especially now that we are in the middle of a health crisis.”) But in the radio interview, Singson cannily left it to lawmakers to decide whether the issue of term limits for elected officials should be taken up along with other amendments that may be proposed.
One could imagine the winks all around: Mga pare, I gave the cue, bahala na kayo. Even at face value, the Mandanas argument for tinkering with the Charter sounds tendentious at best. The Supreme Court ruling mandating that the “just share” of LGUs must come from all national taxes is already part of the law of the land; what it needs, once it starts in 2022, is honest-to-goodness implementation—correct and unhampered allotment on the national government’s part, and commitment on the LGUs’ part to use the budget honestly and transparently for their constituencies’ betterment. Also, it’s not as if a provision’s mere presence or categorical mention in the Constitution exacts faithful compliance by the government, this administration in particular (hello, Bill of Rights).
As for the push to open certain sectors of the economy to full foreign ownership, that would be a richly ironic position to take for an administration that had tied itself in knots preachifying over the supposed foreign control invested by Philippine Depositary Receipts on entities such as Rappler and ABS-CBN (the shutdown of the latter, the biggest media network in the country and the oldest in Southeast Asia, resulting in actual considerable economic loss).
No, economic reforms may well be had along the way, but they’re only a handy pretext for the main task legislators would set for themselves once the Charter-change gravy train gets going: To further feather their nests, whether that means extending or lifting altogether term limits, while correspondingly not lifting a finger to flesh out the already Constitutionally mandated injunction against political dynasties. That was so in the proposed federal Constitution the previous House under Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had championed (thankfully derailed by an uninterested Senate), and it would be so in any other attempt, whether prodded by mayors or whichever other designated cheerleaders, where the proponents themselves conspicuously fail to take their vested interests out of the equation.
Politicians who advocate changing the Constitution supposedly for the country’s advancement, and who want to be taken seriously by the public, must hurdle a simple but defining challenge: Their positions must not in any way benefit from the amendments they advance. Otherwise, that is basic and blatant conflict of interest—bastardizing the critical task of reviewing the country’s fundamental law for their narrow, expedient ends, and all the more deplorable at a time of great hunger and disease across the land.
If any politician talks of Charter change in terms of strengthening the Bill of Rights, implementing social justice provisions to the hilt, and at long last dismantling political dynasties and local oligarchies, then that campaign deserves a listen. Anything less, and the Cha-cha is a rigged dance. Beware.
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