‘Why Cha-cha, why not COVID-19 response first?’

Published January 7, 2021, 3:07 PM

by Raymund Antonio & Ben Rosario

The camp of Vice President Leni Robredo is bemused why some lawmakers are focused on changing the Constitution at a time when the country is still securing a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Atty. Ibarra “Barry” Gutierrez

Robredo’s spokesman Ibarra Gutierrez said in a statement that government leaders should first ensure that every Filipino will have access to the COVID-19 vaccine , rather than focus on amending the 1987 Constitution.

The Robredo camp believes the renewed talk on Charter change is ill timed because there is still a lot of work to do in addressing the pandemic.

“It’s amazing that even as we continue to struggle with COVID-19, lost jobs, and a shrinking economy, we have ‘leaders’ who still find ways to waste our people’s time and money,” Gutierrez said.

“Can’t we make sure that every Filipino will be inoculated with the vaccine before we waste our time on Cha-cha?” he asked, referring to the petition for Congress to convene as constituent assembly (Con-ass) to introduce “limited amendments” to the 1987 Constitution.

Coherent, caring gov’t needed

Former vice president Jejomar Binay echoed the same sentiment.

“What we need during this pandemic is coherent, caring and competent government, not Charter change. Any discussion on amending the Constitution, even on the economic provisions, should be left to the next Congress,” Binay said.

“The motives of sitting legislators tinkering with the Constitution a year before the scheduled election will always be suspect. Historically, these efforts are vigorously undertaken near the end of the terms of office of incumbents, which gives rise to suspicions that such amendments will benefit them.

“Milyun-milyon ang walang trabaho at nagugutom. Bagsak ang ekonomya.
Kailangan ng taumbayan ay solusyon mula sa gobyerno, hindi Cha-cha (Millions are jobless and hungry. Our economy is down. What the people need now is solution to these problems, not Cha-cha),” the former vice president added.

Administration Senators Ronald Dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino filed the resolution, though some of senators and congressmen warned their colleagues to be wary about any move to change the Constitution.

Observers see the move as a strategy to extend President Duterte’s term, which will end next year, as well as those of lawmakers.

Palace denies Cha-cha links

But Malacañang denied its involvement in the move of the Congress to restart deliberations on Charter change, saying President Duterte’s priority now is addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque made the statement following reports that House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco instructed House constitutional amendments panel chair Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin to tackle proposed amendments to economic provisions in the Constitution.

In his Thursday presser, Roque said that it was Congress’ duty to discuss possible amendments to the Constitution and that they do not need President Duterte’s go-signal to do it.

The House of Representatives will resume the discussions on Cha-cha initiatives tentatively on January 13, but Garbin assured it will focus on the economic provisions of the Constitution.

Not the right time

Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor said the renewed initiative to amend the 1987 Constitution will not likely succeed under a COVID-19 situation that continues to grip the country.

He said that it is still “not the right time” for Charter reform. Defensor stressed that he is open to a review of the 34-year-old Constitution drafted by a commission and approved by the people in a plebiscite during the first Aquino administration.

“I am for it, but the question is timing, and today, while we are still battling the COVID-19 pandemic and not achieving much success, is not the right time,” he said.

He said people would accuse members of Congress of being “insensitive to their suffering and even arrogant if we tackle Cha-cha now.”

“Cha-cha is not the solution to the pandemic and economic hardship our people have to grapple with every day,” he added.

The former chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts warned
his congressional colleagues that tackling Cha-cha now could adversely affect the country’s COVID-19 response.

“Cha-cha is a highly divisive issue. It will sap the nation’s attention, resources, logistics, and manpower, which will all be diverted to this untimely effort,” he said.

He said the public might also accuse lawmakers of aiming to extend the stay in power of elective officials by working on Cha-cha toward the end of the term of the Duterte administration and their own term of office.

He said every Cha-cha initiative in the past failed because it was undertaken toward the end of every sitting administration.

“People always suspected that members of Congress were out to scrap the term limits and prolong their stay in office,” he added. (With a report from Argyll Cyrus B. Geducos)