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Editorial

On the gravy train of Cha-cha

/ 04:09 AM January 20, 2021

The case of Duterte Youth and Ronald Cardema is just one glaring illustration of how the party list system in the Philippines has degenerated to a point that President Duterte’s wish for Congress to scrap it appears logical.

Cardema made a spectacle of himself in seeking to represent the group that, as its name makes clear, exists to push the President’s agenda: He presented himself online as an “incoming congressman” although he was not; tried to get at the post despite being, at 34, too old for it (by law, a youth representative must be at least 25 years of age and not more than 30); and tussled with Elections Commissioner Rowena Guanzon for blocking his every illegal move (her colleagues, all appointees of the President, didn’t), accusing her of harassment and even issuing threats. Ultimately, despite formal complaints, Cardema’s wife Ducielle was installed in the post; already privileged in spite of her late arrival at the House, she was listed in the chamber’s roster even before she was sworn in by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco. Incredibly, Cardema was rewarded for his disgraceful behavior. He was reappointed chair of the National Youth Commission, a position he held before fishing for a slot in the legislature. Only in the Philippines…

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Other types are firmly ensconced in the House courtesy of the party list system: wealthy businessmen, young pols grown old and fat in posturing and pretense, scions or spouses of politicians steeped in entitlement, all purporting to represent the marginalized—and doubtless serving as damper to any antidynasty measure coming their way.

But neither Cardema and his ilk nor the landed poseurs benefiting from the party list system are in Mr. Duterte’s crosshairs. The ones he wants out of the House, per the account of Senate President Vicente Sotto III, are activist representatives that, Mr. Duterte is convinced, are in the service of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army. This was how Sotto said the President put it: “I want this problem with the CPP-NPA 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.”

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The lawmakers on Mr. Duterte’s hit list are members of the Makabayan bloc, a group that, in keeping with the true intent of the party list law, makes the diffusion of political power possible. Like a very few others in the chamber, they give voice to those who have no place at the table—the farmers, fishers, laborers, teachers, students, urban poor, and other sectors long trapped at the margins and unable to take part in governance that would uplift their lives. The President has no monopoly on this contempt for lawmakers who shake the structures of the status quo: Parties in the House whose way of life will be endangered by radical change can swiftly throw under the bus those striving to break the chains of ignorance that keep the majority impoverished.

The commie bogey is a tired but still potent tool to make things happen. And, pandemic or no, despite COVID-19 cases breaching the half-million mark, the House is now going through the motions of its recurring dance of Charter change.

But, again, all sorts of statements are making for chaotic Cha-cha music. Palace mouthpiece Harry Roque said straight-faced that his boss’ “No. 1 priority right now” is “to end this pandemic by giving vaccines to our fellow countrymen,” and that amending the Charter is Congress’ “sole constitutional prerogative.” Yet Sotto made it appear that Mr. Duterte wants Cha-cha in order to get rid of the Makabayan bloc—and the House can “amend the economic provisions” while at it.

The committee on constitutional amendments, through its chair Ako Bicol party list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., has piously claimed that it would tackle only the Charter’s “restrictive” economic provisions, and that any attempt at “political” amendments—extended term limits, say, which the House majority gleefully proposed as early as last year—would be dead in the water. His colleagues have hopped on the Cha-cha gravy train, seizing on FDI (foreign direct investments), the growing lack of it as well as its alleged prime role in the Philippines’ economic salvation, and likely dreaming of the power to be wielded over foreigners seeking control of Philippine resources.

The lawyer Christian Monsod, speaking on ANC, has since made short shrift of their piddling arguments. Monsod, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, issued the reminder that FDI had played only a minor role in the growth of other Asian countries. He named “wrong policies”and “weak institutions” as reasons why the Philippines is not an attractive target for FDI. And he pointed out that in flinging open the doors to foreign investors, the main beneficiary will be China.

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TAGS: charter change, constitutional amendments, Editorial
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