[OPINION] Duterte’s Cha-Cha disempowers Filipinos, especially poor, marginalized


Some have argued that the Constitution does not go far enough to ensure that these aspirations become a reality. For example, the provision prohibiting political dynasties has been ignored with impunity by Congress that was tasked to pass its enabling law. Likewise, the provisions on agrarian reform did not provide for free land distribution to farmer tillers, leaving millions of farmer beneficiaries in perpetual debt. 

But under Duterte’s Cha-Cha, even the most token provisions on sovereignty, social justice and human rights are in danger of being deleted or severely watered down. While this will have an effect on all Filipinos, ultimately it will be the country’s poor and marginalized sectors that will suffer the most.

Attack on the rights of basic sectors

Among the most dangerous amendments adopted by the House subcommittee reports are the proposals of the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), a rabidly neoliberal, pro-business group, to delete the entire Article XIII on Social Justice and Human Rights and relegate it’s drastically watered down provisions to other sections of the Charter.

In particular, the proposals are to delete:

The effect of these deletions and diluted provisions is to deny our most marginalized and oppressed sectors – the workers, farmers, urban poor and indigenous peoples – any constitutional basis for asserting their hard-won rights. 

Such changes will most likely result in the striking down of current laws on labor, agrarian reform, urban housing and ancestral domain, and the enactment of new laws that violate such well-established rights.

Limited rights and freedoms

But the attack is not only on the economic rights of the marginalized sectors. Also apparent is the attempt to limit the political and civil rights of citizens.

Article II, Section 1 on the people’s sovereign will is to be amended limiting the expression of that sovereign power to that of suffrage. This effectively makes the country’s flawed electoral system the only constitutionally recognized mechanism for the people’s will, excluding other mechanisms like public opinion, mass protests and other concerted actions, and social and political movements like that which gave birth to the Constitution itself: People Power.

The Bill of Rights (Article III) is to be amended limiting the freedom of speech, of expression and of the press, as well as the right to peacefully assemble and seek redress of grievance from government, to their “responsible exercise”. This gives those in power the ability to suppress such rights on the ground that those exercising it – whether members of media, critics, activists or ordinary citizens – are doing so in an “irresponsible” manner. 

On the Judiciary (Article VIII, Sec. 1), the power of judicial review will be clipped by removing the Court’s power to determine whether there is grave abuse of discretion on the part of any branch or instrumentality of government. This amendment seeks to deny ordinary citizens a most useful weapon for fighting corruption and abuse of power in government. 

In a country where formal democratic institutions and processes are often dysfunctional or controlled by vested interests, ordinary citizens often have to resort to taking to the courts, the media (including social media), or directly to the communities and streets to assert their interests, air their grievances or seek accountability. By effectively constricting such mechanisms, Duterte’s Cha-Cha will lead to the further disempowerment of our people, especially those with little connections to those in power.   

Making Filipinos marginalized in their own country

The amendments to the Constitution’s economic provisions seek to remove limits on foreign ownership and participation, remove the preference for Filipino citizens and corporations, and grant the Federal Assembly unhindered authority to determine economic policy.

Among the most glaring amendments are those that:

Without definite limits on foreign ownership and with no preference for Filipino citizens and corporations, the Constitutional provisions on the national economy and patrimony would become a tabula rasa. It would now be up to the Federal Assembly to determine policies on foreign equity sharing and just about anything there is about the economy and our natural resources. This, of course, creates an entirely new window for corporate lobbying, putting small, underfunded Filipino citizens and corporations at a great disadvantage.

Worse, by totally removing the State’s role in developing an industrialized, self-reliant economy, in implementing agrarian reform, in promoting and protecting Filipino enterprises and producers, and in reserving our natural resources for Filipinos, Duterte’s Cha-Cha will leave small enterprises, workers and farmers having to fend for themselves from the onslaught of even more globalization.    

These amendments are the culmination of 3 decades of “economic reforms” toward a totally free market, neoliberal economy. Combined with the existing policies of economic liberalization, deregulation and privatization, the amendments remove the last impediments to the total domination, control and plunder of our economy and natural resources by foreign corporations and banks. 

A charter for dictators, oligarchs and imperial masters

While packaged as a shift to federalism, Duterte’s Cha-cha is, in fact, an insidious ploy to delete or water down whatever progressive provisions there are in the Constitution, affecting the whole range of our political, economic, and cultural systems.

In the guise of decentralizing power and wealth from Metro Manila to the regions, Cha-Cha will in fact create a new dictatorship even as it strengthens and expands the political dynasties’ monopoly on power. 

It will give a license to foreign powers and their corporations to dominate and control our economy and plunder our resources, at the expense of our citizens and communities.

It will disempower our people, especially the poor and marginalized, by denying them a weapon in their struggle for democratic governance, social justice, and human rights. – Rappler.com