House rejects call to postpone Cha-cha

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    THERE is no stopping advocates of Charter change in the House of Representatives as the chamber’s leaders yesterday refused to heed calls to slow down and delay the renewed campaign to amend “restrictive” economic provisions of the Constitution.

    “I welcome Senator (Franklin) Drilon’s openness to economic reform in the Constitution, but I am against his suggestion that we delay working on it by almost two years,” said deputy speaker Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City in rejecting the senator’s call to postpone deliberations on proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution to the latter part of 2022, which is an election year.

    Rodriguez said the addition of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to select provisions of the Constitution would mean that while the present limitations will remain, “Congress would have the power to alter them to allow for more foreign investor participation in business if the country’s economic situation warrants it.”

    He added that if the House and the Senate approve the Cha-cha proposal of Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and voters ratify it in a plebiscite to be conducted simultaneously with the May 2022 elections, Congress would already have the power in the latter part of next year to change the restrictions to attract more foreign investments.

    He pointed out that due to the deep contraction that the COVID-19 health crisis has wrought on the economy, many economists are projecting that the country would only start attaining pre-pandemic growth next year or in 2023 and so, the constitutional economic reform should already be in place by then.

    Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, an ally of Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano, said Velasco “would do well to return Cha-Cha to the back burner as devoting the chamber’s attention to this highly divisive and counterproductive activity is just a waste of taxpayers’ money, especially at this time when we legislators could best be earning our keep by working with the Executive Department on measures to deal with the lingering pandemic.”

    Although Villafuerte has been one of the top advocates of constitutional reform under the Duterte presidency, he said the situation has changed because of the pandemic and “the ship has sailed” on this political reform as ‘Cha-Cha should have been done yesterday.”

    “As our country continues to grapple with the health crisis that has battered the world for almost a year now, the last thing we need at this point is a highly charged political initiative like Cha-Cha that would only polarize the Filipino people further instead of uniting the nation and cementing its resolve and effort to save lives and hasten our economy’s recovery,” he said.

    The Velasco critic said Congress’ time and effort would be best spent, not on tackling Cha-cha, but on passing pending measures and crafting new measures that would beef up COVID-19 response.