Do we really need cha-cha?

By Val G. Abelgas

HERE we go again.

Every administration since the time of President Fidel V. Ramos has tried to amend the 1987 Constitution for various reasons. The people have consistently rejected the idea of amending the Philippine constitution in surveys after surveys, and yet the move to amend that sacred document, in what is commonly called “cha-cha,” surfaces almost year after year.

Ramos was the first to push “cha-cha” when he sought a shift to a parliamentary form of government and the lifting of term limits on elected officials, arguing that the changes will bring more accountability, continuity, and responsibility to the gridlock-prone presidential bicameral system.

That first cha-cha attempt was met by strong opposition, highlighted by a 500,000-strong rally against cha-cha at the Rizal Park on Sept. 21, 1997. Two days later, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by the People’s Initiative for Reform, Modernization and Action (PIRMA) to amend the constitution through a people’s initiative. Note that the cha-cha was initiated in 1997 towards the end of Ramos’ six-year term.

Under President Joseph Estrada, another attempt to change the constitution was made, but only sought to amend its economic provisions. But fears were expressed by the opposition that the move might be used to amend political provisions, such as lifting the term limits or shifting to a parliamentary government.

The most attempts to amend the constitution was made during the time of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who through an executive order in 2004 created the Consultative Commission tasked with making proposals to amend the charter. The commission headed by Dr. Jose Abueva proposed a shift to a unicameral parliamentary form of government, economic liberalization, decentralization of national government through a parliamentary-federal form of government.

Again, the Supreme Court, by a narrow 8-7 vote, rejected a people’s initiative by Sigaw ng Bayan to implement the Abueva Commission proposals.

Then Speaker Jose de Venecia, Arroyo’s ablest ally, tried to push cha-cha in December 2006 by convening the House of Representatives and the Senate into a constituent assembly, or what is more popularly and aptly known as “con-ass.” The opposition and militant groups held a huge rally to oppose De Venecia’s moves.

But Arroyo’s allies were not to be dissuaded. In May 2008, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. introduced a Senate resolution, backed by 16 senators, seeking to convene Congress into a constituent assembly for the purpose of amending the constitution and establishing a federal form of government. Nothing came out of the proposal despite heavy support from both the congressmen and senators as a strong opposition to the proposals claimed it was a veiled attempt by Arroyo to perpetuate herself in power.

But Arroyo was not done yet in her attempts to change the constitution to shift to a parliamentary form of government. After stepping down from the presidency and winning a seat as Pampanga representative in the Lower House, Arroyo filed a resolution together with her son, Rep. Mikey Arroyo, calling for amendments to the Constitution.

Apparently, Arroyo was not contented with her more than nine years as president. She had obviously wanted to become the first prime minister of a new parliament under a new Constitution, a position with no term limit. Again, nothing came out of her efforts as she was later jailed on plunder charges under the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

In October 2011, almost two years into the Aquino presidency, both Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Sonny Belmonte pushed for Congress to convene itself into a constituent assembly to introduce amendments to the Constitution.

Many more attempts were made to push cha-cha during Aquino’s six-year term, but strong opposition from the public stopped these moves.

Now comes President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies again flexing their political muscles with renewed moves to amend the Constitution. Duterte, who ran on a platform of a shift to a federal form of government, vowed that a national plebiscite on constitutional amendments would be held two years into his term. That promise, one of many he made during the campaign, is nearing its deadline and his allies are obviously moving mountains to make cha-cha a reality.

Picking up from his father, Davao Rep. Karlo Nograles said the shift to federalism is the priority of the House this year. Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Duterte’s hack man in Congress, on the other hand, made known their ulterior motive when he said that there’s a possibility there would be no elections in 2019 if the shift to federalism succeeds. The next day, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, said Duterte’s term may be extended during the transition to the federalism shift, which could take years, probably 10 according to some.

Although Malacanang has denied Duterte was interested in extending his term and might even step down before the shift is implemented, we all know that these are mere blah-blah from a presidential mouthpiece. As Alvarez had said, anything is possible once the shift is approved. If indeed no elections would be held next year, then Duterte would be able to fill up virtually all elective positions with his own allies.

With Nograles and Alvarez, both close allies of Duterte from Davao, arguing strongly for Congress to constitute itself into a constituent assembly or “con-ass,” it’s almost certain the people will have their asses kicked by these leaders of the House of Turncoats as they ram down the federal-parliamentary form of government.

Divisive is actually the key word to why the cha-cha should be repulsed again, cast in cement and dropped in the Philippine Deep where it should lay for a long, long time. Once the cha-cha debates are reignited, the national attention would be focused again on highly political and divisive issues, instead of being concentrated on the two biggest problems at hand – the worsening poverty and corruption.

Do we really need charter change?

It doesn’t matter if new economic policies are put in place, or a new form of government installed as long as the whole political system remains corrupt, the country will still not move forward. I subscribe to the notion that the constitution is not the problem, but a lack of political will on the part of our leaders to enforce it fairly and lawfully.

The constitution is a sacred document that should not be tampered on the whims and caprices of politicians. Unless it is ascertained beyond reasonable doubt that a particular provision is hurting the country and the people, it should not be touched. Laws should be made to enforce the charter provisions, and not the other way around.