Tango...not chacha!

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - January 15, 2021 - 12:00am

I saw a meme on social media that captures the right reaction to congressional moves to open Charter change debates now. Tango. Not Chacha! Tango is tanga go and Chacha is Charter change.

Whoever thought of that meme is right. Unless we get rid of the incompetents and the corrupt folks in public office, no amount of tinkering with the Constitution will do us any good.

It isn’t about the form of government… parliamentary or presidential… federal or unitary. Any system could work for the benefit of the people if the motives and abilities of public officials are right.

Recalling what he learned about being a servant-leader in his growing up years as a Catholic, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in reaction to the Trump-instigated Capitol siege, made an observation relevant to our own search for an ideal national leader:

“I remember a phrase that is relevant today, a servant’s heart. It means serving something larger than yourself. See, what we need right now from our elected representatives is a public servant’s heart.

“We need public servants that serve something larger than their own power or their own party. We need public servants who will serve higher ideals, the ideas on which this country was founded, the ideas that other countries look up to.”

And that’s our problem. The folks who seek public offices in our elections do not have a servant-leader’s heart. They are mostly selfish and corrupt, and we allow them to continually abuse us by voting for them.

Our Constitution needs some improvement, no doubt. But the proposal to amend is meeting stiff opposition because people no longer trust their leaders.

Allow these politicians to open Charter change, supposedly to fix the restrictive economic provisions, and they will expand the discussions to extend their terms of office.

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco probably thought he would get the support of the business sector with his proposal to do Chacha.

Indeed, business people have been calling for the lifting of foreign restrictions to investments in the Constitution. But they are suspicious of this sudden revival of Chacha 15 months before we elect a new president among other leaders.

“PCCI is cautious at the timing and manner by which the Constitution is being proposed to be amended,” Benedicto Yujuico, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in a statement.

The Makati Business Club, another industry group, also said revising the 33-year-old Constitution with the May 2022 presidential polls a little over a year away “will only raise fears that other constitutional changes…may be introduced and passed.

“Thus, any attempt at Charter change now will be highly divisive at a time when our country still needs to be totally united in our efforts to overcome the ill effects of the pandemic,” MBC said in a statement.

The plan, according to congressmen, is to insert the phrase “otherwise provided by law” in Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), Article XIV (Education, Science and Technology, Arts, Culture, and Sports), and Article XVI (General Provisions). Easing these prohibitions, Speaker Velasco said, would help the Philippines attract foreign investments.

PCCI suggested that the same effect can also be achieved simply by amending the Public Service Act to redefine what businesses are classified under public utility. It can then lift restrictions on foreign equity ownership on some sectors we now classify as public utility, includ The Makati Business Club thinks any constitutional change should wait until new leaders have been elected, adding that Charter amendments should be introduced “within the first 12 months of their term.”

Business groups want Congress to prioritize the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises and Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives to Distressed Enterprises for Economic Recovery instead.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III virtually confirmed there are other things they want to tackle other than the economic provisions. He said President Duterte wanted to amend provisions on party-list representation in Congress, supposedly to quell the communist rebellion.

That’s not a bad proposal. The party-list feature of our Constitution has been a failure. It has been abused by politicians and the economic elite. Party-list members of Congress are hardly from the marginalized sectors of society that the framers of the 1987 Constitution envisioned.

The business sector is also worried that Congress may try to pull a fast one and adopt federalism, which is likely to cost more with an expanded bureaucracy that will ultimately mean higher taxes and more red tape… further reducing our competitiveness.

A Charter proposal prepared by a commission appointed by Duterte proposed that federated regions be given a share of not less than 50 percent of all national taxes.

Even Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez was disturbed. In an interview in 2019, Sec Sonny reacted: “You know that draft is a little over a hundred pages and there were three pages on economics – cannot be, Dominguez said of Con-Com’s draft charter.

“The business sector, the banking sector – basically the Filipino people – have to know a little more about how this new charter is going to affect them and their way of doing business,” he said.

Dominguez also previously warned against rushing into the planned shift to federalism, saying Con-Com’s draft had “ambiguous and unclear” provisions on revenue and spending assignment.

“So, if we are going to study a federalism measure by the House, it should be more efficient; it should be clearer; it should cost us less rather than more,” the Finance Secretary said.

“This federalism issue, from the point of view of economics, has not been discussed enough... You know, that might be a big disincentive for investors to come in because, again, the rules are not going to be clear,” he said.

International debt watcher Moody’s Investors Service also cautioned that federalism could present downside risks to the country’s institutional and fiscal profile. There goes our treasured credit rating!

Let us do tango… not chacha.

 

 

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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