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Cha-Cha will be credible only if against dynasties

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - February 10, 2021 - 12:00am

The key constitutional reform is to abolish political dynasties once and for all. If congressmen now rushing Charter change (Cha-Cha) avoid that, then their efforts will be unpopular.

Skepticism is to be expected. Congressmen always go into a frenzy of reviewing the Constitution as any election approaches. Their usual alibi is to supposedly free the economy of restrictive provisos. No Filipino would resist a better life for all, they calculate.

Their true motives invariably unravel as their discussions proceed. Not public but personal interest prevails. Past Congresses had attempted to fast break the removal of their term limits. Some had even tried to extend their terms by scrapping the election altogether.

Reviving industries from pandemic is the current excuse for Cha-cha. Purportedly by letting foreigners own land, public utilities and mines, they will invest in droves. Congressmen cite neighbor-states recently attracting companies that relocated from increasingly repressive China. The discourse is spotty.

No mention is made of Philippine failure to get the overseas investors because of officials’ insular shortsightedness. Busy disenfranchising a giant broadcaster, they didn’t notice new investors who could have multiplied, not divided, the economic pie.

No mention either of global trade and exports slumping due to pandemic restrictions. Cha-Cha will not solve that; sane pandemic response and technology will. Investors also look for policy predictability and equality in incentives.

No mention also of China likely coming in to gobble up land, utilities and natural resources. China has leased long-term an island in the Maldives to reclaim as a naval base against India. It has taken over metal and petroleum resources in Africa and South America, and ports in South and Central Asia. It can do the same in the Philippines. Cronies are just waiting to hand over telecom, gas and transport facilities. Congressmen know that; they recently approved an unconstitutional bill allowing such giveaway. The bill is presently stuck at the Senate.

On the other hand, abolishing political dynasties would open up local economies. It is no secret that politicos are able to control major businesses in their locales. The stranglehold is perpetuated as kinsmen succeed them in office and simultaneously assume other positions.

Examples abound. A political clan was able to pocket public funds to acquire a beachside estate. Then diverted public road works into that private resort. One clansman is in Congress, the spouse is the mayor, an offspring the vice mayor, another offspring a provincial board member and a sibling the mayor of the adjacent town.

Another politico was able to speculate and sell land to a mall developer. Through siblings in Congress, he influenced the appointment of local judges, who in turn forced prime lot owners to sell to him or else be expropriated for a bogus public utility. Again it was pulled off because of dynastic ties.

Other dynasties control quarries, port labor contracting, public construction supplies and filling stations and more in their provinces, cities and towns.

Inevitably, rival businesses are choked. Local economies stagnate. Jobs and livelihoods become scarce.

Dynasties are used to amass illegal wealth by the hundreds of millions of pesos. Today, due to congressional pork barrels and local clout, they are able to pocket tens of billions.

Dynastic control of local activities breeds mini-dictatorships, said Jose Nolledo, one of 55 framers of the 1987 Constitution. To a large extent their abuses incited communist and Moro insurgencies.

About a hundred political families have ruled the provinces since the last two decades of the Spanish regime, according to the book “The Rulemakers.” The 1987 Charter forbade dynasties, but left to Congress the passage of an enabling law. Dynast-dominated Congress has done no such thing for 34 years.

The Constitutional Commission of 2018 drafted an amendment that defined dynasties and detailed the prohibitions. The wording is plain:

“The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties.

“(a) A political dynasty exists when a family whose members are related up to the second degree of consanguinity or affinity, whether such relations are legitimate, illegitimate, half or full blood, maintains or is capable of maintaining political control by succession or by simultaneously running for or holding elective positions.

“(b) No person related to an incumbent elective official within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, as described above, can run for the same position in the immediately following election.

“(c) Persons related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity, as described above, are prohibited from running simultaneously for more than one national and one regional or local position.

“(d) Congress may, by law, provide for additional prohibitions.”

Congress as a Constituent Assembly can approve that Cha-cha. Filipinos gladly will ratify it in a plebiscite to free up local economies.

Will congressmen do it? Since election in 2019 the present crop of lawmakers have had 19 months to study it and other provisions. Now, only eight months till filing of election candidacies and busy with hundreds of pending bills, they want a constitutional review.

Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, one of the 22 Con-Com delegates, naturally wants constitutional reforms. But he wonders why congressmen are doing it only now, and doubts if they have any more time for serious study.

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Paperback copies of “Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” can be delivered to you by 8Letters Bookstore and Publishing. To order: GOTCHA by Jarius Bondoc | Shopee Philippines

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