A Dead Horse Nicknamed Chacha

“The advent of the pandemic has made economic liberalization even riskier.”

I dislike the saying “flogging to death a dead horse,” which means a particular effort is a waste of time as there will be no useful outcome coming out of that exercise of so much energy. It’s an idiom that is anti-animal rights and that is cruel. No one should ever beat a horse or animal, dead or alive. Unfortunately, as ugly as the phrase is, it is the right one for yet another attempt to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution.

Let me reiterate: I am not against charter change. In fact, I have written a book in 2007 on how to do it properly. I have also supported, through the years, efforts to change our constitutional form of government as a way of reforming our politics and expanding the Bill of Rights to include socio-economic provisions. But as I have written before, while I am open to charter change, I think it is foolish and reckless to attempt to change the Constitution in the time of a pandemic. In addition, changing the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution now when there is global economic instability is dangerous and foolish.

The argument of Speaker Lord Velasco and advocates of economic charter change is that the modification of the nationalization requirements of the Constitution will have an outcome of substantially more foreign investment for the country’s economic recovery.

I disagree. As I have written before, removing the provisions on Filipino ownership will leave the country’s resources vulnerable, particularly with China taking interest in many of the Philippines’ assets. Allowing foreigners to own land and utilize our natural resources is for me a matter of social and environmental justice. That’s an absolute barrier we should keep in place if we do not want to exacerbate social conflict and insurgency. And for the rest of the economy, we should wait until the global economic chaos we are seeing—where there is right wing, nationalist, and populist pushback against globalization —settles. We must not unilaterally disarm by liberalizing our economy at a time of great global turmoil.

The advent of the pandemic has made economic liberalization even riskier. Without government support, many Filipino companies and businesses are headed to bankruptcy and collapse. It does not take rocket science to guess which people in our East Asia region are in the wings ready to buy at bargain prices and take over these enterprises and dominate our economy.

I firmly believe that holding the campaign today will only serve to divide the country: Both its fiscal resources and its people. The fight against the pandemic is a bigger concern to everyone and should receive the government’s highest attention. In an already divided country socio-economically and politically, charter change will, instead of bringing the country together, divide us even more.

The government should instead be focused on responding to the crisis instead of pushing for this campaign. The Duterte government should focus on the more important things right now—battling the pandemic, and ensuring that the Filipinos citizens are alive, well, with access to healthcare and the good vaccines, and economically in a better position. That will surely unite and not divide us.

There is also the danger that charter change will not end with the economic provisions. As my colleague Jayvy Gamboa and I have pointed out in another article: There exists no constitutional process or mandate for Congress acting as a Constituent Assembly, a Constitutional Convention properly called for, or through initiative that can, by force of law, limit the scope of a charter change. Once the process of charter change commences, the possibility of the proposed changes going out of our control is just around the corner.

Finally, there is the mode of changing the Constitution. Of the three modes of amending or revising the Charter, the constituent assembly will likely encounter a high level of distrust from the citizenry. A constitutional convention, notwithstanding its high financial cost, is generally more acceptable to ordinary citizens and more conducive for a circumspect constitutional drafting process.

Speaker Lord Velasco has been quoted as saying that the charter change resolutions will be approved by both Houses of Congress by the end of the year, that the proposals are not “dead in the water,” another dreadful idiom as water gives life and does not kill. But that is wishful thinking. I do not see a scenario where the Senate can assent to charter change. Besides, by October 2021, the whole country will be obsessed with the 2022 presidential race and the politicians’ energy will be on their own electoral battles. So yes, charter change is dead in the water.

I like Speaker Velasco. I see him as a modern and even a visionary politician. Flogging to death a dead horse we have nicknamed Chacha is out of character. I hope he reverses gear and makes sure all hands are on deck so the country can overcome the terrible impact of the pandemic.

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