Political Cha-cha

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

It’s out in the open, what political opponents think of the latest push for Charter change: Speaker Martin Romualdez, they believe, wants to become prime minister once his cousin Ferdinand Marcos Jr. steps down as president (or even during BBM’s term) under a parliamentary system similar to the Singapore model.

Romualdez, who has been painting Cha-cha as mainly an initiative to amend economic provisions in the Constitution, has denied such stories.

His opponents point out that no House speaker has ever succeeded in a presidential bid. Pinoy voters seem to detest the traditional political wheeling and dealing needed to make a speaker effective.

Opponents of Romualdez also say that compared to the top contender (as per the surveys) for the 2028 presidential race, his ratings languish behind Vice President Sara Duterte, even after her numbers fell amid reports of her penchant for secret funds.

A shift to a parliamentary system, the opponents say, is the only way Romualdez can take the nation’s helm and the Marcos-Romualdez clan can ensure the continuity of their hold on power.

President Marcos seems seduced by the idea. After saying that Cha-cha was not his priority, he recently said he wanted to find out if Cha-cha would help make the country more attractive to investments.

In Romualdez’s battle with Sara Duterte and now with her father, former president Rodrigo Duterte, we can gauge where BBM’s sympathies lie from the actions and pronouncements of his supermajority allies in Congress as well as government agencies.

The VP and concurrent education secretary has lost P650 million in secret funds, and might yet lose her Cabinet portfolio. Her brother, Davao City Rep. Pulong Duterte, says their city has lost P2 billion in national revenue share for 2024.

Former president Duterte has temporarily lost his show in Sonshine Media Network International (although no one can be completely gagged in the digital age; just ask Donald Trump). Duterte might lose his friend Apollo Quiboloy to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, and see the country return to the International Criminal Court, or at least see the Marcos 2.0 administration cooperating with the ICC in its probe of drug killings.

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There’s speculation on whether Romualdez also had a hand in the ouster of Benjamin Diokno as finance chief and head of the economic team.

Diokno reportedly caused dismay at the Palace when he openly said he and the other members of the economic team were “shocked” by the imposition of the price cap on rice last year.

The hiss from the UniTeam snake pit at the time was that the person who proposed the ill-advised price cap, implemented while the economic team was abroad, was Romualdez.

Ben Diokno got a golden parachute in his appointment to the Monetary Board – one of the highest paying jobs in the Philippine government. And he received fulsome praise from BBM as Ralph Recto was sworn in as finance chief last week. Still, being one of seven in the Monetary Board is a comedown from being head of the economic team (and before that, central bank governor and MB chairman).

Apart from his “shocked” reaction to the rice price cap, rumors of Diokno’s ouster as finance chief had circulated amid his push for reforms in the pension system of military and other uniformed personnel.

MUP grumblings against the pension reforms fueled talk about destabilization and even calls for the ouster of President Marcos.

Rodrigo Duterte has admitted meeting with some retired generals, but denied plotting destabilization or a coup. From his statement, you can surmise that the generals discussed complaints about BBM, but this shouldn’t be surprising.

Because of Duterte’s focus on criminality, his war on drugs and the communist insurgency, he made it a point to take care of the military and police, raising their salaries and effectively raising their pensions. It would be natural for MUP, both retired and still in the service, to complain to him that BBM intended to cut those benefits.

Whether destabilization or a coup was discussed, Duterte can blame his own foot-in-mouth disease for fueling the suspicion, after he publicly issued warnings about military unrest.

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The latest Cha-cha effort is coming at us like a blitzkrieg, trampling all foes in its path – or at least that seems to be the aspiration of its proponents.

With the messy, deceptive way proponents are trying to portray widespread public clamor for such a complex issue, BBM might yet see his ratings fall further as a result.

Fortunately for those against railroading Cha-cha, certain senators are standing in the way. At what was touted to be an “all-member” caucus called by Senate President Migz Zubiri on Wednesday night in Makati, fewer than 18 – the number needed to proceed with a constituent assembly – reportedly attended.

Present at the meeting were Senators Loren Legarda, Joel Villanueva, JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Jinggoy Estrada, Sherwin Gatchalian, Risa Hontiveros, Lito Lapid, Ronald dela Rosa, Francis Tolentino, Cynthia and Mark Villar.

Some of those absent were reportedly abroad or sick. Attendance or absence does not necessarily reflect a senator’s stand on Cha-cha. But several senators have openly expressed opposition to the House initiative.

Instead, Sen. Imee Marcos wants a congressional probe on the billions allocated to the Commission on Elections supposedly for a Cha-cha plebiscite. And probes are also being eyed on the use of public funds under certain government programs to gather signatures for Cha-cha.

Graft charges should be filed against any public official found to be misusing people’s money to deceive people into expressing support for Charter change.

A shift to a parliamentary system will require a rewrite and not just an amendment of the 1987 Constitution. A rewrite cannot be pushed through a signature campaign for a people’s initiative.

The initiative has produced comments that the heirs of Ferdinand Senior and Imelda Romualdez Marcos are beginning to show that the apple truly doesn’t fall far from the tree.

It’s a bad start to the year, which can only spook investors.

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