Cha-cha’s perilous steps

BAR NONE - Atty Josephus B Jimenez - The Freeman

A new coalition, the Koalisyon Laban sa Cha-Cha, has been formed to oppose proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution. According to a report by The FREEMAN, the coalition comprises various people’s organizations, religious groups, and prominent figures, including Bishop Jose Colin M. Bagaforo of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, Senator Risa Hontiveros of Tindig Pilipinas, and other leaders from religious and civil society organizations. Cebu Archbishop Jose Palma had earlier expressed opposition to the initiative for amending the Constitution and reiterated the Catholic bishops' disagreement with charter change.

Although these various coalitions forming in opposition to charter change (Cha-cha) cannot be described yet as a people’s movement, it is important to remember that these organizations are highly capable of mobilizing people on the ground and running a committed campaign, despite a lack of resources or financial backing.

On February 20, Tuesday, retired Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio will be the guest speaker at a forum on charter change at the Performing Arts Hall of the University of the Philippines Cebu, at 1 p.m. Carpio will discuss recent moves to amend the Constitution through a so-called people’s initiative.

Opposition to charter change centers on two main arguments. The first is that proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution are self-serving for politicians seeking to maintain their power. The second argument is that the Constitution itself is not the root cause of the country's chronic poverty and its restrictiveness towards foreign investments; rather, the issue lies in the lack of full implementation and the absence of necessary implementing laws.

I have previously stated in this column that moves to amend the Constitution are like stirring up a hornet's nest. In fact, it has now galvanized civil society and similar groups to register their strong opposition against Cha-cha. The 1987 Constitution has been the fundamental instrument holding the country together for the last 36 years. Attempting to change it, while trust in our political leaders is low, could push the country to confront its festering wounds --wounds that politicians prefer to leave unaddressed.

But even if the majority of our people do not see the need to amend the charter (according to Pulse Asia, 2023), politicians in Congress may yet succeed, especially given our current electoral landscape. These politicians just need this basic formula; a majority who don’t care, combined with the mobilization of enough 'yes' votes through the ‘hakot’ system and vote buying.

We weren’t born yesterday. We're well aware of the methods politicians use to secure their so-called mandates these days. Our populace is so disempowered that many politicians are convinced money always speaks the loudest.

Still, despite these challenges, I have not lost hope for the Philippines. The fact that various groups are starting to organize and become active again makes me believe that this country always has a silver lining.

Last Tuesday, our UP High School valedictorian, Chicago-based nephrologist Dr. Neil Ybañez, was in town for a visit. Such an occasion always calls for a group gathering. I volunteered to host a coffee snack or early dinner with Neil and some of our classmates. Our conversation ventured into discussing our respective careers, family, reminiscing about our high school years, and now also politics and the country’s situation.

In gatherings that include visiting balikbayans from the US or Europe, the unspoken question posed to those of us who have stayed is: “Why have you decided to stay in the Philippines? Why have you not decided to migrate to greener pastures?” These questions lurk beneath polite inquiries like “How’s your job or career?” For me, my answer has always been rooted in my love for the Philippines. I’ve never considered leaving for what might be perceived as a better life abroad. Albeit we have our own struggles, a better life could still be found here.

But one thing making me sometimes contemplate leaving this country is the widespread corruption and inequality. It’s so pervasive that you can only afford to hush it up; otherwise, you risk offending the person, friend, or relative next to you. It makes my blood boil, but at the same time, I don’t want to risk my health by becoming depressed over these issues.

Our politicians treating the Constitution as if it were a blank check are inviting danger. It could unleash the pent-up discontent that has been simmering beneath the nation’s surface.

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