All circling the wagons

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

The on-going rumpus over Charter change (Cha-cha) have seemingly pushed our Senators, Congressmen, and even present and former Cabinet members to circle around in protecting their respective turfs and leaderships. Unfortunately, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr (PBBM) could hardly keep his head above the Cha-cha fray.

And lately, PBBM’s immediate predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte entered into the Cha-cha row with his secede Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines.

The political temperature continues to rise. The Senators stood firm with their strong push back against the people’s initiative (PI) mode to amend the country’s 1987 Constitution. While feuding over the PI, lawmakers from both chambers have also been in the tug-of-war over the two other modes to amend the Constitution, namely, a constituent assembly (con-ass) and constitutional convention (con-con).

On Jan. 23, we saw how the so-called 24 “independent republics” of Senators signed a “Manifesto” that rejected the PI. Led by Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri, the Senators put down in writing in their two-page Manifesto their suspicions that the PI was maneuvered by the leadership at the House of Representatives.

“Today, the Senate once again stands as a bastion of democracy, as it rejects this brazen attempt to violate the Constitution, the country and our people,” Zubiri asserted. “Should Congress vote jointly in a constituent assembly, the Senate and its 24 members cannot cast any meaningful vote against the 316 members of the House of Representatives,” the Senate chief cited.

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, argued the Senators have no right to question the PI as a constitutional right of the Filipino people to seek amendments of the Constitution. No less than Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez countered this. This elicited a bitter rebuttal from the President’s elder sister, Sen. Imee Marcos who insinuated, or should I say insulted, Speaker Romualdez as having “thick face” in meddling into Senate’s independence. Incidentally, the Speaker as Representative from Leyte is a first cousin of the Marcoses from the mother side.

Last week, 91 of the 94 members of Lakas-CMD, the dominant political party at the Lower House issued a manifesto in support of the Speaker. The Lakas-CMD majority bloc also recognized the Speaker’s “leadership and commitment to the principles of democracy and good governance.” They insisted the allegations against the Speaker over the alleged use of government’s ayuda cash subsidies for PI signature drive were baseless.

The Lakas-CMD manifesto dated Feb.3 came on the heels of rumors of a House leadership change following allegations of Sen.Imee against the office of the Speaker. She claimed P20 million were distributed in the legislative districts nationwide to bankroll the collection of signatures for the PI petitions.

Despite her rift with the Speaker in the past, former president and currently Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also signed the Lakas-CMD-led House Manifesto. Mrs. Arroyo is close to Vice President Sara Duterte whose firebrand father publicly criticized not just the Speaker and the House but also PBBM and his wife, First Lady Liza Araneta-Marcos.

The elder Duterte first took up the cudgels for his daughter last year during the deliberations on the proposed 2024 budget when the House removed the P650-million confidential fund requested by the Office of the Vice President and Department of Education, which his daughter heads concurrently. And this rift spiraled all the way to the present feud over PI.

In a prayer rally held in Davao City last Jan. 28, the VP flew all the way to join her father and brothers to oppose the PI and Cha-cha. But a few hours earlier that day, the VP joined PBBM and Mrs. Arroyo at the stage in the launching of the latter’s “Bagong Pilipinas” administration’s branding held at Luneta.

It was at that Davao City prayer rally where Mr. Duterte assailed PBBM as a “drug addict” and accused the Speaker and the First Lady as complicit behind the Cha-cha moves to shift to parliamentary system of government. This obviously was the last straw – so to speak – that finally riled the soft-speaking PBBM to hit back at Mr. Duterte. PBBM reminded Filipinos about the “fentanyl” addiction of the former president as perhaps affecting the latter’s state of mind.

The latest word from Mr. Duterte is to secede Mindanao that apparently pushed the Cabinet members of PBBM to rally for the Philippine flag, the country, the Constitution and most especially behind the Chief Executive’s call for unity and solidarity. One after the other, Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr., then followed by Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman – being the only female Cabinet who hails from Mindanao, and Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. issued their respective commitments to protect and keep intact the Republic against the secession calls of the ex-Davao City mayor.

Meanwhile, the self-declared “ceasefire” in the Cha-cha word war over the weekend erupted into another saliva battle between the House and the Senate.

The party stalwarts from the super majority coalition authored and adopted House Resolution 1562 signed by 283 of congressmen, urging the senators and calling for “adherence to inter-parliamentary courtesy” between the two chambers of the 19th Congress. The House Resolution adopted last Monday took to task Sen. Imee in having “conducted an investigation without a clear legislative purpose, specifically directed at discrediting” the Speaker and the House. This refers to the Senate public hearings conducted on the PI signature drive that Sen. Imee started last week as the chairperson of the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation.

This brings to mind an English language idiom “circle the wagons.” This means – usually used figuratively – a group of people who unite for a common purpose. Historically, the term was used to describe a defensive maneuver which was employed by the Americans in the 19th century. During that period, the people travelling in horse-drawn wagons stop and gather their wagons together in a circular formation in order to protect themselves from attacks.

The term has evolved colloquially to mean people defending each other and frequently describes rival factions banding together to support one another.

The Cha-cha row has brought out all of them into circling the wagons.

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