by Danny S. Venida
May 13, 2019, Monday, E-Day: This election is not only about 12 senators, or your district’s representative to the Lower House of Congress; it is not only about your party list and local government officials. This election is about Charter change, the persistent Cha-cha. With Cha-cha, we will likely see the country divided into federal states; perpetual political dynasties entrenched; term limits lifted; absolute ownership of land to foreign interests granted; national sovereignty surrendered; and virtual one-man rule reestablished.
It is important that everyone gets to appreciate the real agenda in this election. National identity and the common good can go down the drain very quickly if voters elect the wrong leaders. But, if that is what the people want in a fair and honest vote count, then so be it. Respecting the decision of the majority is part of the democratic process. The people get the government they deserve. The 1987 Constitution provides that guarantee.
The context of the current democratic exercise must be put forward. The “ruling” class and the dominant elite, even the elite among the working class, have pursued only self-serving, myopic ends. Filipino society remains vulnerable and highly unstable, with the “poor” grossly exploited on a continuing basis. The 1987 Constitution provides a framework for the country to have governance that is pro-poor, but the ruling class resists this framework.
There is a need to transform the ruling class, not to change the Constitution. The 1987 Constitution was drafted by 48 appointed commissioners of the Constitutional Commission (ConCom) representing a cross-section of Philippine society. The document they wrote takes off from the idealism of the 1986 Edsa People Power Revolution. This nonviolent shift from a constitutional dictatorship back to a popular, constitutional democracy made the freedom-loving world proud of the Filipinos.
Look at the list of the members of the ConCom, from the president Cecilia Muñoz-Palma to officers Ambrosio Padilla, Napoleon Rama, Ahmad Domocao Alonto, Jose Cal-deron; to members Yusuf Abubakar, Felicitas Aquino, Joaquin Bernas, Florangel Braid, Jose Laurel Jr., Christian Monsod, Blas Ople, Francisco Rodrigo, Christine Tan, Bernardo Villegas, among others; and also its secretary general, Flerida Ruth-Romero.
One cannot but say that they were among the best, the brightest and wisest women and men of integrity in the country. Compare them to the members of the House of Representatives today. Self-serving interests are clearly evident in the House’s draft of a constitution that will shift the structure of government to a federal system. Idealism is sorely absent behind the move to draft this new charter. Can we entrust changing the fundamental law of the land to the people in Congress today? Now is not the time for Cha-cha.
It is recognized that a constitution is not a document cast in stone that must be spared from changes. Social, political and economic realities are dynamic. The framework provided by a constitution must allow for necessary changes, for the growth and development of the people as a whole. Democratic space is a constantly active setting.
But the need for changes must be discerned with great prudence. Take the constantly invoked justification for Cha-cha by this administration—the economic provisions limiting foreign interests in select industries and in the absolute ownership of land. Are cost-benefit considerations so overwhelming that foreign investments have to be essentially unrestricted, to encourage them to come into the country?
On land ownership, the need of foreign investors is the unhindered reasonable use of land. Usufruct is the value that must be given to them sans ownership. The principle of stewardship over land resources demands that no one gets absolute ownership of land. In extractive industries, the experience with parity rights from 1947 to 1956 demonstrated that foreign interests are motivated solely by their own self-directed objectives no matter what they leave behind for their hosts.
Preserving national patrimony amid socio-economic development is an exclusive right and responsibility of and for the Filipino.
Cha-cha and its innumerable consequences make up the main challenge the voters will confront on E-Day. The collective decision on this issue is being asked on the ballot. The names of the senators and Lower House representatives will have to be associated with their position on Cha-cha, because the outcome will impact generations of Filipinos.
Let our voices be heard. Let us vote! The stakes are very high.
Danilo S. Venida (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and now a business consultant.
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