charter change

[Newspoint] Wrong hands

Vergel O. Santos

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[Newspoint] Wrong hands

Raffy de Guzman

Should the Constitution be changed – now?

When politicians woo you for your vote, they tell you that when you wake up one morning soon you will feel better about yourself; you will find a job if you have none, and if you happen to be so fortunate as to already have one, however modest-paying, you will be even more fortunate – you can expect a higher wage, indeed a better deal all in all as a worker, and you and your family will thus begin to be lifted from the poverty you have wallowed in all your lives.

And how you always fall for that pitch! I guess, having been fooled too often, instead of wising up, you become more desperate and even easier to fool.

The last previous president, Rodrigo Duterte, promised you the shortest time between sleeping poor and awaking content, and, if you had anything to be thankful for, it was that you awoke at all. His regime of murder and corruption and national betrayal – of which his ceding to China of our resource-rich western sea, one of our last hopes, was the worst of it – got you in a far worse situation than you’ve ever been since the Martial-Law presidency of Ferdinand E. Marcos. Duterte’s idea of efficiency was 20,000 dead in his drug war in his first year in office.

After him, you elected Marcos’ own son, Junior, perhaps in the blind hope that he and his family, heirs to the $10 billion his father had plundered, if not to the blood sins of torture and murder committed during his dictatorship, would have become satiated and contrite. He promised you rice at a miraculous price of P20 a kilo – it now costs up to more than three times that. He built a fund to invest for you; but not only did he build it with money from state banks that lend to the smallest borrowers, he is risking that money in a game meant to be played by nations who have money to burn and therefore have infinitely better chances of winning than you, who have no money period. 

And to keep you dreaming on ever more desperately, the people you voted to Congress, under the speakership of the President’s cousin Martin Romualdez, are now asking you to allow them to tinker with the Constitution, promising, again, that, once they’re done with it, you will feel better about yourself. 

Of course, charter change – or “Cha-Cha,” as it is so appropriately, frivolously short-named, for a dance – is no original hogwash itself. It has been on the agenda of every president desiring to cling on to power, and every one of them has desired that. Thanks to interventions that I can only presume divinely inspired, it has never caught on. But with a new trick deployed this time, you never know.

That trick is called “people’s initiative.” It tries to fool you into thinking that it is you yourselves who want your Constitution changed. If enough of you sign up – enough is 12% of the nation’s electorate, with at least 3% of each district’s – Cha-Cha proceeds. In fact, it was your congressional representatives who hatched the plot and are now pushing it to you, making you own it.

At the outset, the Senate appeared set to strike down the misrepresented initiative, although more for self-preservation than for any noble sense. It rejects the House’s interpretation of the law governing the voting on issues debated and resolved in joint session, issues precisely like those regarding constitutional change. 

The House insists that in such a case all 24 senate votes are equal to only as many House votes out of a total of 300-plus. To be fair, that surely makes a joke of the principle of equality between the two houses. The principle has been routinely observed by proportional representation, itself justified by a senator’s seating by a national vote and a House member’s by a mere district vote.  

The senators also fear that, once the Constitution is laid open to tinkering, the possibility arises of their own house becoming dissolved in a single-house legislature, a common feature in similar plots in the past, because it makes for an arrangement conducive to fraternization among dynastic leaders and a longer stay in power for incumbents, themselves dynastic delegates.

But since talks began between Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri and Speaker Romualdez, the Senate has seemed open to a compromise. Its hearings suddenly tend to proceed from the premise that, after all, there might be things in the Constitution that need changing. And the news media mostly go along, propagating a discourse that dodges the basic and urgent question: 

Should the Constitution be changed – now?

Understandably, those who don’t want to hear the right answer to that question will not have that all-too-easy question dwelt on. And these conscious avoiders are the very possessors of those contaminated hands itching obsessively to tinker with the constitution. 

Is there any more compelling reason to say no to Cha-Cha? –

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  1. ET

    Thanks to writer Vergel Santos for another enlightening and inspiring article. Indeed, if I am allowed to borrow a phrase from him and use it to describe our pro-Cha-Cha politicians, it would be written like this: Pro-Cha-Cha politicians “… are the very possessors of those contaminated hands itching obsessively to tinker with the constitution.”

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