So what more to lift?

COMMONSENSE - Marichu Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Dressed in a red coat in time for Valentine’s Day, Senator Imee Marcos was not in a mood though to send love greetings. But a few days earlier, she had a special feature in “Tiktok” acting out as a red-dressed archer targeting her arch foes behind the  people’s initiative (PI). On the eve of Valentine’s day, the Senate committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation chaired by Sen. Imee conducted its third public hearing on the reported bribery, deception and mis-information that allegedly went through PI mode to amend the country’s 1987 Constitution.

Sen. Imee noted she and many of her fellow Senators are amenable to the House proposal to undertake Charter change (Cha-cha) either through constituent assembly (con-ass) or through constitutional convention (con-con). But not PI, she stressed, because there is “no sufficient law” yet to carry out such Cha-cha as declared no less by the two separate Supreme Court decisions.

The Senate hearing on PI is precisely for “inquiry in aid of legislation” for such new law for PI, Sen. Imee swore.

She deplored what she fears are overt attempts to sidetrack the gains so far chalked up by the administration of the namesake of their father, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) by undertaking such ill-timed and very divisive Cha-cha initiatives.

For almost five hours last Tuesday, Sen. Imee and fellow Senators quizzed the people who earlier claimed as the ones behind the nationwide PI signature campaign Cha-cha. Under oath before at the Senate hearing, People’s Initiative for Reform and Action (PIRMA) lead convenor Noel Oñate swore they were the ones who funded the PI drive that collected signed petitions calling for Cha-cha and were now filed before the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

During our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum that coincided with Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, Sen. Imee poured her heart’s laments in finding herself at loggerheads with purported allies and supporters of PBBM at the 19th Congress. Although did not identify anyone, Sen. Imee has been feuding with their presidential first cousin Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and other House leaders as allegedly behind the nationwide PI signature drive.

She confessed being shocked by the insertions in the Congress-approved 2024 General Appropriations Act (GAA). In particular, she questioned the budget item called as the Ayuda sa Kapos ang Kita Program (AKKAP). Allocated this year to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the Senators expressed “surprise” to see special allocations of P26.7 billion for AKKAP. The next day, DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian went to media to explain this new cash subsidy assistance of the PBBM administration.

Curiously though, Sen. Imee and her fellow Senators in the bicameral conference committee (bicam) all signed the 2024 GAA that included “special provisions” for AKKAP. In fact, a copy of that signed AKKAP budget item was furnished in our Facebook livestreaming during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum.

To her credit, Sen. Imee confirmed it was indeed her signature. However, she pointed out, these were digital signatures. Like all other lawmakers, Sen. Imee admitted she did not exercise due diligence to read the fine prints of the voluminous GAA books.

Actually, however, this corner on Feb. 2 first wrote about the AKKAP provision when Albay Rep. Joey Salceda called the “Senate is the ‘cemetery’ of Cha-cha.” Let me reprint choice cuts only:

“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 (AKKAP) 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.”

Nonetheless, Sen. Imee maintains she will stand up against any issue or controversy that threatens the “second chance” given by destiny to the family of deposed president Ferdinand E. Marcos. As the eldest daughter, the 69-year old Sen. Imee vows to confront any one, or any group for that matter who will try to destroy what she calls as “almost Divine mandate” granted to the incumbent administration headed by her brother. Citing she has “invested” herself to this task, Sen. Imee has accepted being seen as an “opposition” to the present administration.

At the outset, Sen. Imee clarified she is in favor of Cha-cha. She conceded the 37-year old Constitution had been tailor-fitted to prevent the repeat of the martial law regime that prolonged the stay of the Marcos family at Malacanang Palace. This was until their late father and the rest of the Marcos family, including her were forced to flee out of the country at the height of the February, 1986 People Power Revolution.

While she has nothing against Cha-cha, Sen. Imee questions though the “timing” of undertaking it right now when there are more important needs of the Filipinos that the government must address. During her three terms Congresswoman for Ilocos Norte, Sen. Imee argued they have already legislated measures even in Congresses past that liberalized the Philippine economy following the Constitution’s requirement “unless provided for by laws.”

She enumerated such laws on the amended Public Services Act (PSA), the new Retail Act of the Philippines, Foreign Investment Act, among them. So what more lifting of restrictive economic provisions are needed, Sen. Imee rhetorically asks.

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