charter change

[OPINION] Is Cha-Cha Duterte’s vaccine?

Joel Rocamora
[OPINION] Is Cha-Cha Duterte’s vaccine?
'To make sure he is vaccinated against going to jail, [Duterte] wants to change the Constitution to allow him to run again or to change the political system to enable him to retain power'

The never-say-die charter change ambitions of Duterte and his lieutenants is being ramped up again. They arranged to get the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) to pass a resolution calling for charter change. Earlier, the Department of  Local Governments (DILG) revived a signature campaign. Maybe the President is not sure he can get an anointed to win in the 2022 presidential elections. To make sure he is vaccinated against going to jail, he wants to change the Constitution to allow him to run again or to change the political system to enable him to retain power. 

Ever obedient, the House committee on constitutional reform announced  hearings on the LMP proposal soon after SONA. But just as quickly, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said charter change is not in the Senate’s agenda. Sotto did not explain the real reason the Senate is an obstacle to Cha-Cha. Even if they succeed in getting LP Senator Kiko Pangilinan removed as head of the Senate constitutional reform committee, it will not make much difference. Elected nationally, senators do not want their constituency reduced to a federal state. There is no way Cha-Cha proponents can get the three-fourths vote for Cha-Cha through constituent assembly.

Another reason this recent attempt to revive Cha-Cha is dead in the water is that it is too late in the political cycle. It might have had a chance in the first half of Duterte’s term but not when the next national election is less than two years away. It will be easy for opponents to say Cha-Cha is only for the purpose of extending Duterte’s term. It’s not just that by next year politicians will be preoccupied with preparing for the 2022 elections, Duterte  himself  will cease to be the dominant player. He will become a “lame duck” as politicians shift their attention to who they think have the strongest chance of becoming the next president.  

The only other way Duterte can stay in power past 2022 is to get the military to agree to a “revolutionary government.” Indications are, the military is not interested. They already have enough influence on Duterte without having to take on a politically dangerous step. They got Duterte to give them a new Anti-Terrorism Law  which will enable them to go after the open organizations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They killed peace talks with the CPP. They also got him to back off from revoking the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US, and take a more combative stance towards China on West Philippine Sea issues. 

These are the issues that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is institutionally invested in. The political cost of taking on more power can be counted in the mishandling of the government’s  pandemic policies. Because Duterte appointed many ex-generals to the bodies in charge of pandemic policy, the military will be blamed for what one critic called EGI (Enhanced Government Incompetence). It makes more sense for the military keep its head low, wait about a year for Duterte to become a lame duck, and stay on good terms with whoever the strongest presidential candidate is. 

Apart from mishandling the pandemic, several moves this year have strengthened the opposition without gaining anything for the regime. What after all has been gained by ramping up attacks on Rappler? It continues operating and there has been universal condemnation internationally. It remains to be seen if the military would allow the use of the Anti-Terrorism Law against political opponents of the regime. Already up in arms from Rappler, media is now almost universally critical from the closure of ABS-CBN. (READ: IN PHOTOS: Filipinos make noise nationwide to protest ABS-CBN shutdown)

Duterte sees the closure of ABS CBN as punishment for the Lopezes for not supporting him in 2016. What he did not see is that he is also punishing 11,000 workers and millions who looked to the network for news and entertainment. Perhaps most important of all, he has angered actors and pop stars with fans probably running up to tens of millions. Reaction has been so emotional, so intense that it is unlikely other pop idols will dare to take up the cudgels for the regime. What it means politically can be seen in the quickly popular “Kapamilya Voters Bloc 2022.” (READ: After ABS-CBN franchise rejection, Toni Gonzaga says ‘babangon tayong lahat muli’)

Another major addition to the opposition is a newly assertive Catholic Church hierarchy. After suffering through years of bad mouthing by Duterte, the Church leadership has come out in opposition on the 3 major issues against the regime: Rappler, the Anti-Terror Law, and ABS-CBN. Although segments of the Church had opposed specific policies before, the two main centers of Church leadership, the Manila archdiocese, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) recently had changes in leadership which brought in progressives. When Cardinal Tagle moved to the Vatican, Bishop Broderick Pabillo took over the Manila archdiocese. Bishop Ambo David took over the CBCP leadership when the CBCP president had to take a medical leave of absence. The hard-hitting CBCP pastoral letter is one quick result. 

The pandemic makes it difficult to predict political developments in the rest of the year into early 2021. But with the spike in infections in the past couple of weeks, and economic costs mounting, it is unlikely Duterte will benefit politically. The opposition has gotten a jolt of energy from reactions to the ABS-CBN closure. Opposition leaders, most importantly Vice President Leni Robredo, and Senators Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, and Kiko Pangilinan have crafted measured responses to the pandemic. By next year President Duterte will not be able to avoid being saddled by COVID and economic crises past, while the opposition will be in the forefront of shaping a “new normal” future. – Rappler.com

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