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Opinion

Bad faith

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

It’s amazing how an existential threat can unite a chamber whose members normally behave like independent republics.

In a rare move, all 24 senators signed a manifesto last Tuesday, opposing the continuing signature gathering for a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution.

Even the staunch pro-Charter change senator, Robinhood Padilla, signed the manifesto against the people’s initiative, which never stopped despite a statement attributed to President Marcos that this route to Cha-cha is “too divisive.”

That supposed quote by Marcos was announced by Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri following their meeting at Malacañang on Jan. 9 together with BBM’s cousin, Speaker Martin Romualdez. The Speaker has been openly accused by some senators of being behind a campaign to stampede the Senate, through the signature campaign, into going along with Cha-cha.

Either something got lost in translation and Zubiri misheard or misinterpreted “too divisive,” or Marcos gets no respect from the minions behind the people’s initiative. Almost as soon as news spread about BBM’s supposed disenchantment with the initiative, the lead convenor of the group behind the PI said it would continue.

There was another meeting on Jan. 11, Zubiri disclosed, which was attended by Special Assistant to the President Antonio Lagdameo Jr. and BBM’s congressman son, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos.

Zubiri had announced that in their discussions, President Marcos had tasked the Senate to “take the lead” in Cha-cha, ostensibly to avert a constitutional crisis between the two chambers of Congress. Zubiri also disclosed, without providing details, that he had a “colorful and vigorous” discussion that “became quite heated” with Romualdez.

The Speaker is suspected by his opponents of maneuvering a shift to a parliamentary system where he can serve as prime minister.

As interpreted by Zubiri, the agreement with BBM was for the Senate – with the House going along – to amend specific economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution, effectively through legislation. Maybe Zubiri heard only what he wanted to hear.

Romualdez reportedly said at the meeting that all he wanted was to amend economic provisions in the Constitution. He later said the House of Representatives remained committed to the people’s initiative as a means to amend the Charter.

*      *      *

Certain senators have maintained that people are being paid to sign the signature sheets being submitted to the Commission on Elections. This is on top of earlier reports, amplified by BBM’s sister Sen. Imee Marcos, that congressional districts were promised P20 million each to gather the signatures.

Senators have enormous resources for information gathering, and many have their own political bailiwicks even if they are elected at large. They should proceed with their planned probe of the reports of “signature buying.” Sen. Ronald dela Rosa suggests that the probe be held in Davao City, bailiwick of the political nemesis of Romualdez.

With the people’s initiative unrelenting even after that “heated” discussion, senators see the PI (an unfortunate acronym in this country) as an effort to either stampede them into going along with the House on Cha-cha, or to make the Senate irrelevant in the effort.

“There is bad faith somewhere,” Sen. Koko Pimentel declared, in an understatement.

On One News’ “Storycon” last Wednesday, Pimentel asked how Albay Second District Rep. Joey Salceda knew that the 12 percent threshold (which the congressman described as “a point of no return”) for signatures needed for a PI had already been met.

Pimentel said senators were studying action against those behind the signature drive, and perhaps against the Commission on Elections for accepting the signatures ostensibly as part of its “ministerial” duty.  Comelec Chairman George Garcia has shown no intention of stopping the acceptance of the signature sheets.

The issue is expected to go to the Supreme Court, which has invalidated two people’s initiatives carried out under previous administrations.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said he would personally lead an information campaign against the people’s initiative. We can expect several other senators to do the same in their own bailiwicks.

*      *      *

The release of the manifesto looks like a point of no return for the senators on the latest Cha-cha effort.

It doesn’t help that those behind the effort need to get their scripts in sync. Romualdez maintains he simply wants economic amendments, but other congressmen (plus those behind PI) are talking about political changes and a full rewrite of the Constitution.

The idea of shifting to a parliamentary system has been revived. With the same political families expected to control parliament in case this happens, how much change is possible?

In Japan, the prime minister is routinely replaced upon losing the confidence of his peers, with one, Tsutomo Hata, sitting for all of 64 days. On average, their prime minister stays in office for only a year or two. But the highly efficient, professional Japanese bureaucracy – something that is sorely lacking in the Philippines – makes up for the political instability.

On Wednesday, Albay First District Rep. Edcel Lagman said BBM may have to “broker” another deal with the Senate.

I don’t know what else BBM can broker. Cha-cha has always been bedeviled by trust issues, with senators feeling their chamber threatened and the public seeing it as just another scheme by the political elite to screw the people.

And with the developments after Zubiri’s meetings with the Marcos-Romualdez team (the current real ruling clique, not the UniTeam), it looks like senators’ trust of the House at this point is below zero.

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JUAN MIGUEL ZUBIRI

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