Cha-cha not Duterte’s priority – Roque

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Cha-cha not Duterteâs priority â Roque
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said amending the Constitution never emerged as a priority in Duterte’s weekly addresses to the nation.
STAR / KJ Rosales, file

MANILA, Philippines — Charter change is not a priority of President Duterte as the government is focused on responding to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said amending the Constitution never emerged as a priority in Duterte’s weekly addresses to the nation.

“The truth is the President, the whole government, through the IATF (Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases), is focused on the problem of COVID-19. So Charter change is not a priority,” Roque said at a press briefing.

A total of 1,488 mayors have called for amendments to the 1987 Constitution as means to promote regional development. The League of Municipalities of the Philippines has expressed support for the institutionalization of the Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court and the lifting of restrictions on foreign investments. The 2018 ruling states that the “just share” of local government units should be based on all national taxes, not just on national internal revenue taxes.

“I’m personally sympathetic to the league because that is the ruling on the Mandanas versus Executive Secretary and I am one of the lawyers who helped them in that case. But I think the mayors will understand (the priority of the President),” Roque said.

“Although they are right in their advocacy on the IRA (internal revenue allotment) because it will help local governments provide faster services to their constituents,” he added.

Amending the Constitution is one of the campaign promises of Duterte, the first president from Mindanao. He had pushed for a federal type of government, saying it is necessary to spur development in far-flung areas and to address the conflict in Mindanao.

Although not a priority, any constitutional reform initiative would not be for the purpose of extending or lifting of term limits or cancellation of the 2022 elections, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) said.

As critics have come to question the timing of the constitutional reform (CORE) proposal, DILG Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said they should instead throw their hats into the discussion of possibly amending the Constitution instead of accusing campaigners of ulterior motives.

“Let me state for the record that there is nothing in the CORE proposal that is being pushed by the DILG which seeks to do away with the 2022 elections,” Malaya said in an interview over ANC.

The DILG said the resolution of the League of Municipalities would be presented to Congress upon the resumption of session late this month.

Malaya, administrator of the DILG Federalism and Constitutional Reform program, said his agency aims to push for constitutional reform for greater regional distribution of resources especially in the time of pandemic.

“That is a misfire because rather than discuss the issue itself, we’re trying to question the motives of those who are pushing for it which is a tragedy because we have never had a real national conversation about the issue and when are we going to have that? We have been pushing this off for the past six administrations,” he said.

“We’d like to push for constitutional reform so that there is greater regional distribution so the next time a pandemic comes, the entire Philippine economy will not shut down just because Metro Manila is at a standstill because of a lockdown … There has to be greater distribution of resources to the provinces in order to prepare ourselves for future pandemics,” he said.

Surgical amendments

The DILG’s CORE is pushing for “surgical” amendments in three parts, which include greater resources to local governments, political and electoral reforms and the lifting of the “economic restrictive provisions” of the Constitution.

“This has always been part of the agenda of the President. This is not a secret. This is not a last-minute inclusion into the agenda of the President. This is just continuation of what has always been in the agenda of the administration. Now that we are in the last two years of the admin, we have to give it one final push if it will push through,” he said. The DILG earlier drew flak for its continued gathering of signatures for the CORE campaign while the country struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, meanwhile, said the government should prioritize containing the pandemic instead of pushing for charter change.

While the mayor acknowledged that all local government units would benefit from a bigger IRA, the government needs to regain the public’s trust before undertaking actions that might be perceived as furthering personal interests rather than the interest of the public.

“We have to win the trust and the confidence of the people first in the sincerity of the government in addressing this pandemic,” Belmonte said in an ANC interview.

“Now is the time to just concentrate on the pandemic, show the public that we are doing our best, our numbers are improving, that we are all hands on deck... This is the issue of the day and this is the most important crisis of our era,” she added.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said inputs from local chief executive for possible Charter amendments, will be taken up in President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address on July 27.

“I will call a virtual meeting of our committee possibly within the first two weeks of our session to tackle the proposals of our 1,489 town mayors and other pending measures,” Rodriguez said.

He said he would get the sense of his members and leaders of the House on discussing charter change amid a raging pandemic.

“The IRA allotments for the LGUs will be significantly increased which are needed by the LGUs to address the Covid-19 pandemic and other local development programs and strengthen local autonomy in our country,” Rodriguez observed.

“As for the lifting or relaxation of restrictions on foreign investment and even ownership of businesses, there are already resolutions filed in the committee by some representatives,” he added.

“Especially this time when we need more foreign investments and to invite more foreign businesses relocating from China, in order to provide much needed jobs for our people, this amendment is worth considering,” Rodriguez said. — Neil Jayson Servallos, Delon Porcalla

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