No ceasefire

For the second time this year, a ceasefire between the two chambers of Congress was announced over Charter change.

And for the second time, the ceasefire was broken almost immediately by both senators and congressmen.  

You can’t help smelling something fishy in the effort by the House of Representatives to stampede the Senate into dancing the Cha-cha.

The congressmen’s partner, the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action, has the tenacity of a zombie: never say die. As the second ceasefire was announced and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) released forms for withdrawing signatures for the people’s initiative, PIRMA lead convenor Noel Oñate announced that the signature campaign for PI would continue.

That signature campaign is not pushing for any specific economic reform in the Constitution, but merely for a seemingly minor change in the wording of a provision, which will effectively allow the House to amend the Charter as it pleases without having to worry about those pesky senators.

 Unlike many of the supposed eight million who have affixed their signatures to the PIRMA petition sheets, senators read the fine print, saw an existential threat to their chamber, and the Congress war erupted.

  The underhanded way that the joint voting amendment is being rammed down the nation’s throat to marginalize the Senate reinforces suspicions that the House push for Cha-cha is fueled not by any genuine desire for economic reforms, but by a political agenda that will benefit incumbent congressmen, starting with Speaker Martin Romualdez.

 Since their three-year term ends next year, House members appear to be moving heaven and Earth to achieve their real Cha-cha agenda before the current 19th Congress ends next year.

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Senators have said they are ready to tackle economic Cha-cha, but the PI signature campaign has to stop – which it hasn’t. Since this campaign has been shown to have the blessings of Romualdez himself, he is expected by senators to have the ability to stop the PI.

But the Speaker seems to have conveniently adopted the stance of both the Comelec and PIRMA – that it’s a people’s initiative, which is a private undertaking that can’t be stopped by any government entity.

 The prospects for a successful PI are uncertain. PIRMA claims that in just a few weeks, it managed to collect enough signatures to meet the threshold requirement for PI. Constitutional issues are complex, and it’s amazing how in this land of the comprehension-challenged, at least eight million people sufficiently understood the “joint voting” Charter amendment proposed in the PI petition to readily sign on to it.

Comelec Chairman George Garcia told “Storycon” last week on Cignal TV’s One News that there are conflicting interpretations of the Supreme Court ruling on whether there is even an enabling law for PI.

 Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman has filed a bill providing that enabling law – the subtext being that there is currently none. 

The Comelec has suspended accepting the PI signature sheets as it reviews the rules and regulations for the PI process, including the verification of signatures submitted to the poll body.

Asked by Storycon why the Comelec is asking PI signatories to explain their reason for withdrawing their signatures, he said this is optional. For those who want to state a reason, a space is provided in the sheet, he said.

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Last Saturday, Zubiri brought his chamber’s case to the Philippine Military Academy, urging its alumni to protect the Constitution.

“We are one with you in securing our country against all threats to our democracy – whether from external actors who use their military might to try to cow us into giving up our borders, or from insidious actors who attempt to undermine our hard-won freedoms from within our own country, or worse, even within our own government,” Zubiri said.

This Cha-cha effort is shaping up to be as disastrous as the price caps imposed on rice last year – said to be another brainchild of Romualdez, which “shocked” the economic team.

 The head of the economic team has since been put out to pasture (although with hefty pay) in the Monetary Board, with the Speaker suspected to have played a role in it.

 How long the Speaker will retain his clout has become a favorite topic in the coffee shops. There’s also speculation on whether he is merely doing the dirty work for his cousin the President. If so, BBM seems blissfully unaffected by the bitter warfare that has erupted within the administration alliance. 

BBM can’t keep up this nonchalance. Congressional bickering has spread to other issues, such as the wage hike that senators led by Zubiri insist on legislating.

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Republic Act 6727, the Wage Rationalization Act passed in 1989, provides the mechanism for wage setting, through the regional tripartite wages and productivity boards.

The tripartite mechanism ensures that any wage increase can be enforced and won’t lead to downsizing or shutdown of businesses. Over 90 percent of businesses in the country are micro and small enterprises, which are heavily impacted by wage adjustments and are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Some of them might be able to fully comply with a P100 across-the-board increase in daily wages, but the majority likely can’t.

This is why there’s that regional mechanism for wage setting, provided by law, which senators want to ignore so they can earn pogi points as the midterm elections approach. 

An increase of P100 a day means at least P2,200 a month in additional pay for employees across the board. Either the micro entrepreneur cuts jobs, or passes on the added cost to consumers. 

This is bad news for an administration whose weakest point, as consistently shown in surveys, is managing inflation. The latest OCTA poll showed a hefty 75 percent dissatisfied with Marcos 2.0’s performance in taming inflation.

Zubiri has advised businessmen opposing his wage hike to “moderate your greed.” That’s a terrific way of driving investors away from the Philippines.

Senators must be aware that the House is not keen on a legislated wage hike. Senators then get to earn pogi points, with congressmen looking like the bad guys. But it will also put BBM himself on the spot.

Between the Senate’s legislated wage hike and the House-backed PI zombie apocalypse, BBM must be lamenting: “With supporters like these, who needs enemies?”

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