Reviving Cha-cha

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - December 16, 2019 - 12:00am

Over the past two decades, I’ve patiently studied proposals to amend the Constitution.

All the proposals start off with a common thread: to lift economic restrictions that are being partly blamed for the country’s low levels of job-generating foreign direct investments in comparison with our neighbors.

All the Charter change proposals also include political reforms. It’s like a Pavlovian impulse: say Cha-cha and politicians think of their nasty term limits.

We can’t even make up our mind on the reasonable terms of office for elective officials from the president down, and whether limits should be set.

Fidel Ramos, whose supporters also tried to change the Constitution through a people’s initiative, said six years is too long for a bad president, but too short for a good one.

The proposal to lift the single-term limit for the president, which would have allowed Ramos to seek reelection, doomed that initiative. The person who “anointed” him, Corazon Aquino, sent word that there’s life after the presidency.

Joseph Estrada, even within his short-lived presidency of two and a half years, created the Preparatory Commission on Constitutional Reforms in February 1999. The commission, chaired by retired chief justice Andres Narvasa, submitted to Estrada its 400-page proposed Charter in December of that year.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had her signature campaign for a people’s initiative for Cha-cha. Her former chief legal adviser Nonong Cruz called it “a legally harebrained idea” before quitting as her defense chief.

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I went through the Narvasa commission’s proposals before putting the report on my bookshelf, where it has since gathered dust, untouched.

It has been joined by the printed carcasses of other Cha-cha proposals from various groups and individuals.

Last year alone, we had two such proposals. One was from the consultative committee chaired by retired chief justice Reynato Puno, which President Duterte formed to draft a Charter for a shift to federalism. The other was crafted by the Arroyo-led House of Representatives, whose members it seems didn’t even bother looking at the work of the Concom.

I’m pretty sure, however, that the House members were aware of one particular proposal of the Concom: to lift term limits, but only if dynasty building would be curbed.

So the work of the Concom was dead on arrival at the House of Representatives. The HOR proposal wasn’t even about federalism, and of course it contained no anti-dynasty provision. As promised by senators, the HOR proposal was in turn DOA at the Senate.

I don’t think the opinion about Cha-cha has changed in the Senate under the current Congress.

Cagayan de Oro Second District Rep. Rufus Rodriguez is unfazed. He expects the Cha-cha resolution that was approved in executive session by the House committee on constitutional reforms to eventually reach the plenary for a vote.

I guess as head of the panel on constitutional amendments, Rodriguez has to work on Cha-cha. If it fails like the previous efforts, let it not be said that the chairman of the committee on constitutional reforms did not give it a try.

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As in previous Cha-cha efforts, Rodriguez has some interesting arguments. He wants tandem voting for the president and vice president – meaning they must be from the same political party – for a smooth working relationship between the two highest officials of the land.

This is the least contentious of his four key proposals.

His proposed manner of lifting economic restrictions is through the fast-track mode of Cha-cha by legislation: the addition of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the Charter provisions that impose limits on foreign investments.

While this Cha-cha route is the quickest, simplest way of lifting the restrictions, it also vests in lawmakers wide discretion in opening up certain sectors of the economy to private businesses.

Perhaps Filipinos – who will have the ultimate say, through a requisite referendum, in any Charter amendment or revision – may go along with that proposal, if Congress will also pass a law against racketeering.

It’s like the proposal, revived over and over again, to lift term limits: the Concom also pushed for it, but only if it would be approved together with anti-dynasty provisions. Predictably, the HOR ignored the proposal.

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Rodriguez’s panel also tackled terms of office: House members and local government executives will have five-year terms from the current three, with two consecutive reelections. Incumbent officials will not benefit from the longer terms, which will start only in the first elections from the approval of the Charter changes.

As a sweetener, the House committee is proposing to increase the number of senators from the current 24 to 27, with three each representing nine collapsed regions: Metro Manila, Northern Luzon, Southern Luzon, Bicol Region, Eastern Visayas, Western Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Southern Mindanao and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region.

Rodriguez told “The Chiefs” last week on Cignal TV’s One News that regions needed better representation.

With Juan and Juana dela Cruz already burdened with the upkeep of nearly 300 HOR members, I don’t know how much more regional and sectoral representation taxpayers need.

For this latest Cha-cha, Rodriguez sees the House convening into a constituent assembly by early next year. Con-ass has also been proposed in the past, but it always went nowhere because of disagreements between the two chambers of Congress on the mode of voting.

Those who think the latest Cha-cha is just another waste of time will have their view reinforced by another key point in the latest proposal: to synchronize terms of office and elections, senators will have their terms reduced from the current six years to five.

This Cha-cha is then guaranteed to be DOA at the Senate.

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