An issue of trust
In a new year when the priority of every government the world over is getting their people vaccinated against COVID-19, the first order of business for the House of Representatives in this country is, once again, revving up the Charter change train. As early as tomorrow, the House committee on constitutional amendments will meet to tackle the proposed Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, according to panel chair Ako Bicol party list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. The resolution, filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, seeks to convene Congress into a constituent assembly to amend several economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, including the limit on foreign ownership of certain industries and enterprises.
“Ours is a 33-year-old Constitution and if you look at the restrictive economic provisions, we’re lagging behind (in terms of) foreign direct investments,” Garbin told Inquirer.net. “So the Speaker said that for us to help (revive) the economy and also for the provisions of the Constitution to be responsive to the needs of time, then we need to look into it.”
As though to indicate a coordinated plan to carry out Cha-cha, two staunch Duterte allies filed a counterpart resolution in the Senate, which has so far fended off Cha-cha maneuvers. RBH No. 2, quietly filed last Dec. 7 by Senators Francis Tolentino and Ronald dela Rosa, also calls for Charter change through a constituent assembly, composed of the present members of the Senate and the House. But the Tolentino-
Dela Rosa resolution outdid the Velasco resolution by seeking not just economic amendments but also provisions for “democratic representation.’’
The two senators did not specify the kind of “pragmatic democratic representation’’ they want done, but Senate President Vicente Sotto III revealed that President Duterte asked leaders of the Senate and the House in a meeting last November to convene as a constituent assembly to scrap the party list system because this has purportedly been infiltrated by communists.
“I want this problem with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) solved. The best way is that we remove the party list system, or change it in the Constitution so we can call for a constituent assembly and amend that,’’ Sotto quoted the President as saying.
The President then added: “You may then take advantage of the opportunity to amend the economic provisions.’’
In other words, the economic provisions, supposedly the “only” focus of the House move, will become merely an aside, an afterthought, to the political amendments. And once the floodgates of political amendments are flung open, what will stop legislators from proposing terms designed to benefit the political class and further entrench themselves in power, from postponing elections and approving term extensions to shoring up political dynasties, thrashing the party list system not to thwart its continuing bastardization by wealthy interests but to hit back at progressive sectors, and shifting to a federal setup altogether, which could allow the President and his administration to stay beyond his term?
Cha-cha proponents have disclaimed any scheme to amend term limits or introduce term extensions. Garbin said the Speaker had “no intention’’ to touch term limits: “If you look at the resolution of the Speaker, that is really only confined to that economic provision.’’
But can they be trusted to keep their word? Congress also tried in December last year to sneak in approval behind closed doors of a resolution seeking to lift so-called restrictive economic provisions and extending the term of House members to five years, a maneuver only stopped by the pandemic.
In truth, there is no stopping Congress, once formed into a constituent assembly, from proposing limited or wholesale revisions to the Charter. It would be a folly, said Sen. Panfilo Lacson, to believe that only the economic provisions would be amended: “When we open the valve to amend the Constitution, especially via a constituent assembly, nobody, not even the highest officials of the three branches of government can choose, much less assure which provisions may be amended or not.”
The risks of political disruption and turbulence posed by Cha-cha comes at a perilous time for the country. Millions are hungry and jobless, and despondency is widespread; Moody’s Analytics has projected that the Philippines would be the last country in the Asia-Pacific to fully recover from recession. And yet legislators believe tinkering with the Charter is the solution to the public health and economic quagmire.
Survey after survey in the last years has shown that the public considers Charter change dead last in the urgent priorities confronting the nation. And those were in comparatively better times, with no pandemic and economic slump ravaging the nation. What makes the lawmakers think they can get away with this abject, frivolous diversion this time?
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