Senate is ‘cemetery’ of Cha-cha – Salceda

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The intensity of the bitter squabble over the snowballing signature campaign for the people’s initiative (PI) to amend our country’s Constitution could evoke the most profound to silly arguments. A self-confessed supporter of PI, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda openly exhorts Filipinos to let their own “sovereign will” prevail instead of being dictated upon by 24 senators only.

Speaking at the Kapihan sa Manila Bay media forum last Wednesday, Salceda deplored as very demeaning to the people who signed PI petitions for Charter change (Cha-cha) being questioned by those vehemently opposed to this mode of amending the Constitution. Setting aside his personal stand on the controversy PI brouhaha, Salceda disclosed his own congressional district in Albay was able to gather 20,000 signatures from 297,000 registered voters.

As required under Republic Act (RA) 6735, or the enabling law for the PI, at least three percent of the total registered voters per congressional district must sign the petition in favor of Cha-cha. According to Salceda, they gathered this many signatures in his congressional district from Dec. 23 to Jan. 5 this year. Albay-wide, the signatures collected totaled 150,000 out of 900,000 or so registered voters in the entire province.

Offhand, Salceda echoed the laments of House leaders who were being accused of bribery, allegedly using the government’s “ayuda” cash subsidy. For one, he argued, the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 6735 specifically mandated “no public funds” can be used for PI. And Salceda swore all of them in Congress cannot access the “ayuda” programs of certain government agencies without IRR yet for their allocations under the 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA).

Senator Imee Marcos, in particular, accused the office of the Speaker for allegedly distributing P20 million each to congressional districts to fund the PI signature campaign nationwide.

A check with the office of the Department of Budget and Management, Secretary Amenah Pangandaman informed us it is only the P26.7-billion Ayuda sa Kapos ang Kita Program (AKAP) in the 2024 budget that has no IRR yet. This is another cash subsidy program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for those impacted by the country’s rising inflation. “All other programs likened to ayuda has already been comprehensively released,” the DBM secretary explained.

After the PI gathered so much steam, Salceda noted the speed by which the senators quickly acted to come up with their own Senate version of Cha-cha economics by legislation. Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri filed Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 6 that calls for “separate voting” by both chambers through the usual legislative process. But Salceda frowned on Zubiri’s RBH No. 6 for limiting the amendments to only three provisions of the Constitution, namely, advertising, education and public utilities.

As the House committee on ways and means chairman, Salceda estimated the minimal impact of Zubiri’s RBH No. 6 on the country’s economy. Regarded as the resident economist of Congress, Salceda calculated Zubiri’s RBH No. 6 may “unlock” only about 3.11 percent growth in the country’s annual gross domestic product (GDP).

“It will be a waste of time (if we adopt Zubiri’s RBH 6),” the feisty Albay lawmaker rued. “Don’t they (senators) understand it?” he rhetorically riposted.

Salceda pointed to at least 14 House-proposed Cha-cha bills that have been gathering dust at the Senate since the 19th Congress first convened in July 2022. In fact, Salceda cited, there have actually been a total of 358 House Cha-cha bills filed from the time of the 8th Congress all the way to the present Congress, including these 14.

But only one of these 14 proposal bills advanced on third and final approval by the House of Representatives in March 2023. This is the proposed RBH No. 6 authored by Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez calling for constitutional convention (con-con) to lift the existing restrictions in the economic provisions.

Per historical inventory of all Cha-cha bills, he recalled, it was erstwhile speaker Lord Allan Velasco who filed RBH No.2 calling for amendments specifically of seven economic through constituent assembly (con-ass). It also reached third and final reading during the 18th Congress.

Doing the math, Salceda projected “potential impact of about 14 percent” growth in the annual GDP will be unlocked with the lifting of these seven “restrictive” economic provisions. These are in agriculture, land ownership and lease, public conveyance, education, media and advertising.

But after being transmitted for approval to the senators, Salceda rued, it was never acted upon by the previous Senate, which included half of the incumbent senators of the present 19th Congress, like Zubiri.

Salceda further noted Velasco’s RBH No. 2 was filed during the term of former president Rodrigo Duterte. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) immediately came out with IRR of RA 6735. This is the same Comelec Resolution No. 10650, series 2020 that suspended all PI proceedings indefinitely. After the Comelec en banc meeting last Monday, Chairman George Garcia announced their decision to suspend PI proceedings purportedly while the poll body would “review, enhance and add” necessary provisions to the IRR.

Quoting from Comelec Resolution 10650, Salceda underscored it specified “only registered voters” can sign PI petitions and required the poll body to certify the signatures while no PI petition has been filed yet. Thus, he warned the Comelec might be overstepping its own IRR.

Salceda recalled the Duterte administration supported Cha-cha, particularly on the proposed shift of government system to federalism. Thus, Salceda raised suspicions on why the pro-Cha-cha allies of Mr. Duterte are now up against the PI mode just because political provisions were excluded by the proponents for economic Cha-cha amendments.

Of the 358 House Cha-cha bills, 105 bills provided for “separate sessions” of the Senate and the House. From the same record of Salceda, these were eight out of the 14 House Cha-cha bills presently filed that call for “separate voting” of the two feuding chambers. Obviously, these 105 House Cha-cha bills conform with the senators’ steadfast stand of separate voting to amend the Constitution through con-ass. But still, all of these House-approved bills on Cha-cha got waylaid at the Senate.

“All (House Cha-cha bills) arrived ‘dead in the water’ at the Senate,” Salceda quipped.

“We might as well call the Senate as the cemetery,” Salceda wisecracked.

So the bickering over the Cha-cha mode goes from dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

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