Cha-cha for sale

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

This has to be among the reasons why investors steer clear of the Philippines: rules can be rewritten on a whim, in an underhanded way, to favor whoever is in power.

We’re seeing this in the current effort to stampede the country into amending the Constitution. While any Constitution must be dynamic and responsive to the times, any change in the basic law of the land cannot be done haphazardly, mainly to suit the needs of the current ruling class.

Fortunately, there are voices of protest emanating from both chambers of Congress. Combined with stories from protesting local executives, the voices give credence to accusations that Charter change proponents are using people’s money to buy public support to ram Cha-cha down the nation’s throat, the way Marcos 2.0 did with the Maharlika Investment Fund.

In our weak republic, the checks and balances are not provided by functioning systems or democratic institutions, but emanate from political warfare.

This is evident in the Marcos administration’s push for Cha-cha, spearheaded by the House of Representatives under the President’s cousin.

The first spoiler, of what was initially presented as economic Cha-cha, was the chair of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of laws himself, Sen. Robinhood Padilla.

Ex-actor and ex-con Padilla filed a resolution calling for constitutional changes that are mainly political, including eight years instead of six for a senator’s term, plus the election of 30 additional senators by region.

Really, don’t taxpayers have enough high-maintenance public officials already in place, wasting people’s money? Maybe they need more senators to occupy that spiffy, multibillion-peso new office building rising in high-end BGC.

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And now here comes PIRMA, Marcos 2.0 version, complete with a full demonization of the 1986 people power revolt that ended the Marcos dictatorship. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been installed in power, but this isn’t enough repudiation of the revolt; the so-called Freedom Constitution ratified in 1987 also needs to be junked.

The reincarnated PIRMA claims to be the same People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action, which sought a shift to a parliamentary system in 1997 that could have allowed EDSA hero and then president Fidel Ramos to seek reelection. PIRMA that first time claimed to have gathered 11.5 million signatures, which were submitted to the Supreme Court. The SC tossed out the initiative.

PIRMA has taken responsibility for advertisements that popped up on several TV networks beginning Tuesday night, calling for Cha-cha under the heading “EDSA-pwera.” TV ads are very expensive; PIRMA claims the advertising funds came from private donors.

Incidentally, this year’s anniversary of the 1986 EDSA revolt is no longer on the list of holidays for 2024. I guess Malacañang will again explain that Feb. 25 falls on a Sunday anyway. No long weekend for this event.

Key personalities in the 1986 revolt are mostly gone or have self-destructed or have jumped to other camps. But there has to be enough people in this country with the capacity for outrage against abuse of power and betrayal of public trust – the kind that uses ayuda or government cash doleouts to dupe people into signing what are actually petitions for Cha-cha. People should be locked up behind bars for this misrepresentation and misuse of public funds.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Benhur Abalos has said his department has nothing to do with the “vote buying” for Cha-cha at the local level.

Unfortunately for the latest batch of Cha-cha proponents, cracks in the administration itself are proving to be their biggest roadblocks.

The President’s sister, Sen. Imee Marcos, is seeking a probe into reports that congressional districts are being offered P20 million each to support the Cha-cha initiative of the House of Representatives.

Senator Imee is also questioning the P14.2-billion appropriation in this year’s national budget reportedly for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a plebiscite on Cha-cha.

Comelec Chairman George Garcia said the poll body would investigate the reported “vote buying.” Considering the track record of the Comelec under him, however, it would more likely affirm a vote for Cha-cha, with 20 million affirmative votes transmitted in the blink of an eye through a single private IP address, for public approval by a landslide.

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Former president Rodrigo Duterte, whose radio show has been muzzled by Marcos 2.0, likely saw his popularity rise after he called the House “the most rotten institution” in the country.

Duterte should know whereof he speaks; he’s a former Davao City congressman himself, with the House post now occupied by his controversial son, Paolo “Pulong” Duterte. The former president had dropped his administration’s own Cha-cha effort, which he had wanted for a shift to federalism.

“Pulong” Duterte has complained about a P2-billion cut in the national tax share of Davao City for 2024, leaving the city with a “measly” P500 million. The P2-billion cut is on top of his sister the Vice President’s loss of P650 million in secret funds.

On Facebook, Pulong said the Cha-cha initiative in Davao city is spearheaded by PBA party-list Rep. Margarita Nograles, rivals of the Duterte clan.

VP Sara has not commented on Cha-cha. But it’s a safe bet that she won’t endorse any initiative of Speaker Martin Romualdez and the House.

Even before this signature campaign for a paid stampede for Cha-cha started, there were grumblings from a sector of the fractured UniTeam that the initiative is meant mainly to shift to a parliamentary system, wherein the Marcos and Romualdez clans can regularly switch positions as president and prime minister, and stay in power forever, or until their sons are ready to take over the family enterprise.

“I am against this people’s initiative as this is not the people’s voice but the voice of a few who wanted to perpetuate themselves in power,” Rep. Pulong posted on Facebook. “To all Dabawenyos, do not sell your soul for a mere P100 or 10,000 in exchange for your signature. If you want to follow the minions of the person dreaming to be great in Congress to perdition that is your choice.”

Who knew Pulong could serve as a rallying point versus Cha-cha for sale?

This is what happens when an attempt to amend the basic law of the land is anchored on deception.

When it comes to changing the Constitution, the means must justify the end.

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