House to-do list excludes Cha-cha

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    ‘Such aid, however, need not come in the form of an amendment to the Constitution, for it will just open the floodgates of criticism…’

    IF only to reassure the people that Congress will not touch the Constitution — at least not this year — the chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on constitutional amendments, Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of Cagayan de Oro City, announced that his committee will not meet until year-end and will only convene in January or February, 2021 for further discussion on the controversial Charter change (Cha-cha).

    Rep. Rodriguez said the move is in response to the suggestion of Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who said the House should focus its time, energy and resources on the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically on the budget deliberations.

    Two of the underlying reasons certain groups are still pushing for Charter change have surfaced recently. First is the wish of provincial governors to institutionalize the Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court that gives the correct interpretation of the computation on how much local government units should receive from the national government as their internal revenue allotment (IRA). The governors and mayors wanted this written in the Charter, so that the Department of Finance and the Department of Budget and Management will have a stronger reason to comply.

    The second issue which was aired as recently as this week is the call from a mass organization of supporters of President Duterte since he was mayor of Davao City to declare a drastic change in our system of governance — towards a revolutionary government thru people’s initiative and with presidential support. The group pushing this idea also wanted a federal form of government in the long run, a campaign promise of Duterte which may be considered as good as abandoned.

    The governors and other local officials know that it does not need Charter change to get what they want, which is just a wider base for computing the IRA, and political pressure for the Executive department to comply with the Supreme Court ruling.

    This demand can be addressed by ordinary legislation.

    Recognizing the validity of the position of LGUs, Rep. Rodriguez filed House Bill 7430 which seeks to increase the share of provinces, cities, towns, and barangays from taxes collected by the national government. The measure reflects the High Court’s ruling in the Mandanas case on internal revenue allotment by amending the Local Government Code, Republic Act 7160.

    Many representatives like Rodriguez note with concern that the COVID-19 epidemic has quickly depleted the funds of LGUs, with huge, unexpected expenses for containing the spread of COVID-19 and decreasing tax collections due to the lockdowns and the stalled economy.

    The towns, cities and provinces do need assistance, and much of these may come from Congress, such as the Bayanihan to Recover As One bill which is about to become a law when President Duterte finally signs it. Such aid, however, need not come in the form of an amendment to the Constitution, for it will just open the floodgates of criticism, charging these provincial governors and city mayors of hidden motives and other considerations for tweaking the Charter at this time.