BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
The last time the country underwent the same type of changes in the charter, currently being pushed by the Arroyo administration, purportedly to solve the political and economic crisis was in 1972. Marcos presided over the finalization of the 1971 Constitution, which shifted the form of government from presidential to parliamentary. But the 1971 Constitution and the laws and measures enacted by Marcos, which is being emulated by the Arroyo administration, did not solve the political and economic crisis confronting the country, it worsened it.
The debate regarding charter change (Cha Cha) is shifting into high gear. No thanks to the efforts of the Arroyo administration in trying to ram its version of Cha Cha. With no hope of getting the support of Senate for charter change through a constituent assembly and with their moves to force the issue by having the Lower House vote to overrule the Senate standing on shaky constitutional and legal grounds, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her supporters in the House of Representatives is now trying another track, through a people’s initiative.
The administration is desperately trying to gather 5.6 million signatures nationwide. Even as the Supreme Court had already ruled in 1997 that Republic Act 6735, the Initiative and Referendum Act of 1989, is inadequate without an enabling law, the administration is still pushing for the gathering of signatures in another effort to force the issue. They are confident that when challenged before the Supreme Court, the High Court will again reverse itself, as what it did with the Mining Act of 1995, especially since the two justices who issued a dissenting opinion in 1997 continue to be senior members with one of them, Artemio Panganiban, sitting as the current chief justice.
The Arroyo administration claims that it had no hand in the gathering of signatures and that these were being done by the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) and private groups such as Sigaw ng Bayan (People’s Clamor). But who believes them? If the government was not involved why was it able to use the network of barangays in calling for so-called assemblies? The ULAP is headed by Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado and its members are local officials. They plan and undertake the gathering of signatures using their local authority, during their official time, and using the resources of local government. How can a private group such as Sigaw ng Bayan, which suddenly appeared, develop a nation-wide network and obtain vast resources to undertake such a big campaign in so short a time? Even the expenses for communications, materials, and human resources alone had to be huge, not to mention the money that changed hands in exchange for signatures.
How can the administration claim that there is this sudden surge of people clamoring for Charter Change last March 25 when only a month ago Macapagal-Arroyo had to declare a state of national emergency to keep itself in power? Is this what Aumentado calls a “true manifestation of the people’s will”?
This is sophism in the same league as the administration’s claims that Macapagal-Arroyo won in the 2004 elections; the persons talking in the “Hello Garci” tapes are not Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Commission on Elections Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano; there are no graft and corruption cases involving Macapagal-Arroyo and her family; and the administration does not condone human rights violations and the suppression of the media and the legal left.
The Arroyo administration says that Cha Cha will solve the political problems and crisis facing the country. But the shift from presidential to a parliamentary form of government cannot solve the political crisis brought about by questions of legitimacy hounding the Arroyo government. It will only give the Arroyo administration a measure to evade its ouster and the power to suppress opposition to its rule. It will grant the combined powers of president and prime minister to Macapagal-Arroyo; and remove restrictions to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, civil liberties and political rights, and safeguards to the declaration of martial law.
Cha Cha will not solve the economic problems and crisis wrecking the country and its people. It will give foreign corporations free rein to exploit the Filipino masses and the country’s natural resources to satisfy the former’s greed for profit.
Cha Cha will not bring the country in line with the developed countries of the world. It will worsen the country’s underdevelopment and make it more subservient to U.S. control and interests.