VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

In 1986, I was made to understand that people’s initiative in the 1987 Constitution was a form of people power.

Exercising their sovereign rights, people can, in theory, on their own initiate amendments to the Constitution, without the consent, without the intervention of Congress and, in fact, in contravention of Congress’ vested interest-inspired wishes.

The only requirement for a valid people’s initiative (PI) is that 12 percent of voters nationwide must sign the petition and that each congressional district be represented by at least three percent of its registered voters. PI is a form of what former Chief Justice Reynato Puno calls “direct democracy.”

The idea behind PI was that Congress could not be trusted to initiate amendments to the Constitution that will promote genuine people’s welfare, increase the powers and benefits of the masses and enable the country and its economy to adapt to the dynamics of the world order.

Also, the Senate, with 24 senators, could not be trusted to go along with the wishes of the numerically superior (with 312 members) House.

The Senate will agree to any amendments provided they, the senators, vote separately, like a kingdom to itself. The House, of course, thinks otherwise.

In amending the Constitution, the House thinks the Senate should join it in a common assembly, or joint session, where the votes of the 24 senators (assuming they will all be present and not one member absent, assisting his/her spouse’s vitamin intravenous (I-V) pa-beauty session inside the Senate’s hallowed offices) will be diluted by over 300 congressmen (even if 100 congressmen absent themselves to attend to their spouses’ I-V pa-beauty session inside the legislature’s hallowed premises).

That (I-V sessions inside Congress or Senate) is OK, according to Senator Robin Padilla, as long as you don’t trample upon another person’s feet. Beauty sessions, after all, focus on the face, not on the feet, unless the feet wear Hermes or designer jewelry, like one senator’s wife.

In the original 1987 Constitution, more than 80 provisions had these wordings – “unless otherwise provided by law” (such as the provisions on term of senators and congressmen, dates of election of the president, senators and congressmen, no double compensation, official language, etc.); “as may be defined by law” (anti-dynasty); “unless otherwise fixed by law” (number of elected congressmen and party-list representatives) and “until Congress provides otherwise” (increasing salaries of the president, vice president, Senate president, speaker, senators, congressmen and justices).

Congress has approved salary increases of constitutional officials, from the president, down. It also increased the number of congressmen – elected by district and by party-list. Today, at any given year, Congress can easily house 360 congressmen. At P70 million per congressman in PDAF allocation, such a Congress can easily eat up P25 billion of taxpayers’ money, yearly.

But after 38 years, the legislature has not acted on one of the most important mandates given it – enact an Anti-Dynasty Law. A ban on dynasties will harm Congress, 70 percent of whose members are dynasts.

Now, in irony of ironies, Congress is using PI to initiate amendments to the Constitution, focusing ostensibly on economic provisions.

Foreigners are banned from certain economic activities such as land ownership, media, advertising, schools, natural resources and public utilities or services. The ban can be total (100 percent) or partial (no majority ownership).

These restrictive economic provisions, says President Marcos Jr., “inhibit our growth momentum.” Using these provisions are laws “that prohibit certain kinds of foreign investments and thus limit our economic potential and our global competitiveness,” the President told Philconsa and MOPC on Constitution Day last Feb. 8, 2024.

Indeed, since the 8th Congress, more than 300 measures have been filed in the House of Representatives to amend these economic provisions. With unfailing regularity, all were rejected by the Senate.

“This administration’s position in introducing reforms to our Constitution extends to economic matters alone, or those strategically aimed at boosting our country’s economy. Nothing more!” Marcos Jr. told the Philconsa-MOPC gathering.

Later, the President expressed his desire that Congress get the amendments done, “without any fuss.” “But I don’t know why there is such (a fuss). It’s really a storm in a teacup because this has been decided very long ago by the leaders of both Houses,” the Chief Executive said.

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The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) are looking into the case of Barangay Culatingan in Concepcion, Tarlac which has shut down for the past eight months the operation of a P250-million chicken broiler farm, allegedly because of environmental issues.

The farm used to produce three million broiler (month-old) chicks a year.

It was helping meet the nutritional needs of millions of Filipinos (chicken is the cheapest food today, cheaper per kilo than fish, vegetables, pork or beef).

For seven years before 2023, the farm, owned by who I call “Madam M,” secured its permit without fail, and without fuss.

Nestled on a 20-ha. farm (the nearest residential house is one km away so perfumery is not a concern), the five-building complex has met all kinds of hygiene and sanitary standards. Then in 2022, a new mayor for Concepcion was elected and demanded the closure of Madam M’s multimillion-peso farm.

The barangay has also demanded, in writing, that the farm provide one sack of rice to every one of the barangay’s 4,000 households. At P2,000 per sack, that’s easily P8 million of carbo subsidy, on top of unspoken “millions.”

ARTA is investigating the barangay. ARTA is supposed to cut red tape and BS in processing business permits. But then, ARTA’s chief says there is a so-called “due process.”

So expect more red tape to hobble Madam M’s broiler farm.

It’s really more FUND in the Philippines. “PI!” You might exclaim. Not the congressional PI.

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Email: [email protected]

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