Poverty, term extensions spook people over Cha-cha

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THE lingering poverty and fears of term extension for politicians have derailed efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution, regardless of the president’s stance on Charter change (Cha-cha).

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This has been agreed upon by Representatives Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna Party-list and Sherwin Tugna of the Citizens Battle Against Corruption, both lawyers, even if they are not political allies. Colmenares belongs to the House Minority bloc, while Tugna serves as the house deputy majority leader.

Colmenares, whose party-list group has been one of the loudest in expressing their opposition to Cha-cha for the last 14 years, noted that the Cha-cha moves have always failed and will continue to fail because the electorate knows too well that poverty and underdevelopment are not caused by the Constitution.

”Every ordinary citizen knows that poverty is caused by corruption, not by the Constitution. A lot of our people are poor and landless. We can’t blame the Constitution for these problems. Cha-cha is not grounded on reality,” Colmenares, who served as the vice chairman of House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms during the 15th Congress, said in an interview.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. of Quezon City has already filed a bill which seeks to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution through legislation, specifically lifting the 40-percent restriction on foreign ownership of business investments and public utilities.

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro, on the other hand, filed a measure that seeks to amend the Constitution that includes extending the terms of elected government officials.

But neither of these bills are gaining ground, just like the previous moves of signature campaigns dating 14 years back starting with the presidency of Fidel Ramos and were also seen during the administration of former President Gloria Arroyo.

“Poverty is not due to the restrictions with the constitution but with mismanagement of money. Poverty exists because officials use the money for projects that we don’t need or steal it,” Colmenares argued.

”There is really a disconnect between Cha-cha and the people because while amending the economic provisions will help the economy, it is not the panacea for the social ills of our country. Economic amendments are not bad, but not necessarily compelling enough to change the constitution,” Tugna added in a separate interview.

Worse, Colmenares invoked that the 60-40 constitutional provision has long been circumvented over the years with dummy Filipino companies serving as conduits of foreign firms just to comply with the 60-40 rule in favor of Filipinos.

“If we do this [Cha-cha], we just legitimize their backdoor tactics, make it front door, complete with red carpet,” Colmenares said.

Unlimited power
Instead of being a tool for human development, Colmenares and Tugna underscored that the people would rather refuse to take their chance on proceeding with a measure that will eventually lead to term extension of public officials.

The 1987 Constitution only provides for a three-year term for councilors, vice mayors, mayors and representatives. These officials can seek reeelection for their second and third consecutive terms, meaning they can only keep their post for as long as nine years.

As for the Senators, the Charter provides them a six-year term and can only seek a second consecutive term once.

“A lot of people will ride on this Cha-cha to advance their vested interests. Why push for term extension? Do you expect the people to believe that they are poor because you have only been in power for nine years? It could be the other way around. Maybe they became poorer because the same family occupied the post for the last nine years. Cha-cha is antagonizing the people,” Colmenares said.

Tugna agreed, saying that a politician who would support a measure that would perpetuate him or her in power will be hard pressed to get votes in the grassroots level.

“The short terms aim to level the playing field. You can argue that one family can be in power in nine years, but still, after nine years, there will be changes. Families can be in power in nine years in at least half of the 250 districts, but for the other half, it won’t be the case. New people will definitely come in at some point,” Tugna added.

But the biggest obstacle of Cha-cha for the lawmakers is the fact that its advocates cannot come up with a united stand on the issue despite consistently pushing for amending the Constitution for the last 14 years.

“Those in favor of these initiatives are not organized. Some of them will push for economic provisions while some will go for political ones. They can’t come up with a common position among themselves. You can’t convince the people to support you in that situation,” Colmenares said.

Pushing for Cha-cha, Tugna said, would need to be convincing in a heart beat because it is an attempt to change the system which has been in place for the past 27 years, restored the country’s democracy and recently rewarded Filipinos with economic growth.

“It is easier to make the argument against Cha-cha because it is the status quo. It is definitely more difficult to push for something that will break the status quo if there is no single voice to what they are shouting. As it is, advocates do not talk about it among themselves,” Tugna said.

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