‘Shelve Cha-cha in favor of vaccine info drive’

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    BOOSTING the government’s public information campaign on its vaccination program would be the most sensible thing to do now amid the continued presence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte said yesterday as he urged his colleagues at the House of Representatives to ditch their enchantment with Charter change (Cha-cha).

    Villafuerte, who is allied with the camp of former speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, said pushing to the backburner current moves to amend the “restrictive” economic provisions of the Constitution would allow the government to focus on the vaccination info drive, which he said is necessary to persuade the people to take part in the upcoming mass vaccination program amid the hesitancy of many.

    “The House leadership seems out of touch with reality and should come to their senses and spend their time and energy instead on helping encourage the people to get vaccinated instead of conducting plenary debates about the highly divisive issue of constitutional reform,” Villafuerte said in a statement.

    The committee on constitutional amendments approved Tuesday last week Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2, which seeks to liberalize restrictive economic constitutional provisions and allow Congress to enact laws that will free up the economy to foreign investors and provide much-needed economic relief to Filipinos in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    RBH No. 2 seeks to insert the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to specific provisions of the Constitution, namely five amendments to Article XII (National Patrimony and Economy), one amendment to Article XIV (Education, Science, and Technology), and one amendment to Article XVI (General Provisions).

    The Constitution limits foreign ownership of land and businesses to only 40 percent, and reserves the other 60 percent to Filipino citizens or corporations.

    The House panel earlier excluded from the amendment Section 7 of Article 12 pertaining to foreign ownership of land in the Philippines, which states that “no private lands shall be transferred or conveyed except to individuals, corporations, or associations qualified to acquire or hold lands of the public domain.”

    The plenary debates on the highly divisive measure is expected to begin next week as the committee report on the measure is still pending before the committee on rules.

    Panel chair Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin and senior deputy speaker Salvador Leachon were not immediately available for comment.

    Villafuerte, who was earlier removed as deputy speaker for finance for being a Velasco critic, scored the House leadership for what he called its “misplaced priorities.”

    “Why don’t they ask local officials if they still have time to tell people about Cha-Cha while they are too busy with measures to contain the spread of Covid-19 in their communities and convincing people to get vaccinated to fight the disease?” he said.

    The lawmaker recalled that former fellow congressman, Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco, was quoted in news reports as saying that local government executives do not have the time to even talk or think about Cha-Cha as they are too busy dealing with the pandemic.

    Villafuerte said even Senate President Vicente Sotto III, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. and Communications Secretary Martin Andanar have underscored the need for the government to intensify its information campaign about the COVID-19 vaccination program to counter the disinformation about it and persuade adult Filipinos to get inoculated.

    Villafuerte stressed a nationwide information campaign is urgently needed “to send the message across to the people that vaccines are safe, would protect us from the highly contagious coronavirus and let us fully reopen the economy, which, in turn, would lead to a quick recovery from the global economic chaos Covid-19 unleashed last year.”

    He noted that a November 23 to December 2 survey of Pulse Asia had shown that 47 percent of Filipinos refuse to be vaccinated, with only 37 percent willing to be vaccinated and 21 percent undecided.

    Villafuerte said Cha-Cha would only “polarize” the country at a time when national unity in fighting COVID-19 is of paramount importance, as shown by the opposition to Cha-Cha by 10 business groups led by the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) during the committee hearings on the measure.

    He pointed out that Cha-Cha will not bring about immediate reform that could help in the ongoing economic recovery efforts because the current proposal does not directly give Congress the power to instantly relax certain constitutional restrictions on the economy.

    While he has long advocated for constitutional reform, Villafuerte said “now is not the right time to pursue any political exercise to tinker with the 1987 Constitution as the coronavirus pandemic—and the global economic upheaval it has set off—has taken the wind out of Cha-Cha’s sails.”