Economic Cha-cha bill filed at House

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Economic Cha-cha  bill filed at House
odriguez said it was “imperative that reforms be introduced in the Charter to make it responsive to the exigencies of the times.”
Gerry Lee Gorit

MANILA, Philippines — The administration’s Charter change (Cha-cha) initiative is still alive at the House of Representatives despite the apparent decision of its principal proponent, President Duterte, to skip it in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday. Comebacking Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez yesterday filed Concurrent Resolution No. 1, which seeks to change the economic and political provisions of the Constitution.

Rodriguez said it was “imperative that reforms be introduced in the Charter to make it responsive to the exigencies of the times.”

Under his proposal, the phrase, “unless otherwise provided by law,” would be inserted in 11 parts of the Constitution that limit foreign ownership of land and businesses, including telecommunications and media.

This means that the present restrictions would be kept but Congress would have the power to relax or scrap them, Rodriguez said.

His resolution is similar to the one introduced by then congressman Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of Quezon City.

The Rodriguez Cha-cha measure does not advocate a change in the present presidential system of government, but proposes that the Senate be composed of 27 members instead of 24.

The 27 would represent nine regions at three senators per region. The proposed regions, whose composition would be determined by Congress, are Metro Manila, Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Senators, congressmen, local and barangay officials would have a term of office of four years with two reelections, for a total stay in office of 12 consecutive years.

Aside from Rodriguez, newly elected Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano has vowed to push for Cha-cha.

In fact, he proposed that the term of office of House members, senators and local officials be changed to “four years without term limit or five years with term limit.”

Under the Constitution, congressmen, governors, mayors and other local officials have a term of three years, while senators have six years. Thus, senators would lose one-year to two years, while House members and local officials would gain as much if Cayetano’s proposal was followed.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the President’s decision to avoid mentioning Cha-cha in his fourth SONA meant that the Constitution rewriting push was dead.

Last July 8, when Duterte intervened in the speakership squabble among his allies, he told them to work on Cha-cha during his remaining three years in office.

Asked why he omitted Cha-cha in his annual address, the President told reporters that the matter is “better left in conferences that are not allowed to be open to the public.”

“There are a lot of complaints. A lot of pros and cons. Mahilo ka (You will get dizzy). So better, you just talk it among yourselves and present it to the public once the package is completed,” he said.

Duterte added that he is still pushing for federalism but admitted there are certain things that have to be clarified, including the authority given to local governments and the need to have a strong president.

“Until such time that we have perfected it, there has to be a strong president with the same powers now. As for me, I’m out of it because I think that it will pass beyond my time,” he said.

Not giving up

The consultative committee (Concom) of President Duterte is not giving up on federalism even if he did not mention anything about it during his SONA.

Concom member and former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said he is still pushing for the shift to federalism and is still campaigning for it until the Filipino people will understand its benefit to them.

Pimentel said he understands why Duterte did not mention federalism in his SONA as he believes that it is something that can be done under his administration since he still has three years before the end of his term.

“The issue about federalism is still being pushed and what is important is that the people understand it. I think that is why the President did not mention it because he believes he can still do it with the remaining three years of his administration,” Pimentel said in English and Filipino.

Reacting to critics of federalism, Pimentel said he respects their decision to express their sentiments, but he said they should not stop anybody from campaigning for federalism.

Former Concom spokesman Ding Generoso also said that Duterte’s decision not to discuss federalism during his SONA does not show that he is no longer interested in it, but could mean that he is thinking of strategies on how to present it to the public.

“To us, it means he’s not giving up on federalism. Maybe he is working on some strategies on how to make federalism work. We still think that it is going to be realized within his term,” Generoso said.

He added that Duterte’s Concom members rarely see each other after they submitted the draft constitution to the President, but said that he and former chief justice Reynato Puno are planning how to push for federalism. Puno was the chairman of the Concom created by Duterte.

For now, Generoso said they are busy doing information drives and other campaigns on federalism apart from what the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is doing.

Next week, they are set to conduct the information campaign in Davao, Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon, according to Generoso.

Renewed call vs Cha-cha

Meanwhile, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo yesterday reiterated his objection to the proposed amendments in the 1987 Constitution.

Pabillo again argued that Cha-cha under a Congress allegedly subservient to Duterte would not be beneficial to the people and to the country.

“The big danger to us now is that the majority of the Congress people and the senators are more beholden to Duterte than to the good of the Filipinos,” he said in a statement.

Pabillo, a vocal critic of the administration, alleged that the purpose of such proposal became clear after Cayetano recently proposed to extend the term of office of members of the House of Representatives.

“It is not really so much about federalism but about extension of terms of sitting politicians and the complete and full opening of Philippine economy and natural resources to foreigners,” Pabillo warned.

“It is a sellout of the Philippines to the moneyed foreigners. All the rhetoric that it will bring more investments and give more work for Filipinos is just a cover up to the plunder of the Philippines,” he added.

The bishop stressed that this is precisely the reason why the Church has been vehemently opposing the proposed Cha-cha.

“Our constant call since last year is no to Cha-cha because we do not trust the people now who will change (the Constitution). They have no competence, they are so self serving and their loyalty is not to the Filipino people but to their political ambitions and to Duterte,” he added. – With Robertzon Ramirez, Edu Punay



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