THE D-day is to fall on July 2006. By this time, the
By the words of no less than President Arroyo, the train for charter Change has left the station and anyone who stands in the way runs the risk of being run over. Too bad because from the look of things, the first casualty by this well-oiled political locomotive will be the truth.
What are the potential benefits of Charter change? How does it affect people’s lives? Will Filipinos progress or suffer? How will the new Charter address joblessness? Why do we need Cha-cha in the first place? What’s the real motive behind the move to change the Constitution?
There are a thousand questions that need to be answered before a voter could decide intelligently whether or not we should change the basic law of the land. But these questions will not be answered because Malacañang, the Real Money that chartered the runaway Charter-change train, is not interested to educate. Well, it now says belatedly it wants to open the floor to nationwide discussions, citing surveys showing poor levels of public awareness on the Constitution and related issues. But given the strict time-bound agenda of its House allies, how sincerely can it allow for time to educate?
The train has left surreptitiously without informing the passengers, the people, where it is heading. The route itself is so short that people would simply have no time to debate its merits or the lack of it. By July, the train will stop and we will get up from our seats to a totally different sets of rules, like Rip Van Winkle waking up to a new crazy world after sleeping through a time warp.
It’s clear that the government is not really interested in an enlightened citizenry come plebiscite time. It’s just three months to the July deadline, yet the government has not produced a single leaflet discussing the virtues of Cha-cha. The Charter-change advocacy commission is there, but how quickly and effectively can it provide the environment for an impartial debate? The government controls a lot of media organizations yet, it has not scheduled single honest-to-goodness debate on the pros and cons of Chacha. Meanwhile, there is only the chartered train, a state-directed initiative to pressure an uninformed citizenry to ride on the train whose destination only the devil knows where.
To the question of why is the government rushing it without the much-needed debate and information dissemination, we turn to a veteran political analyst who spoke at the Ateneo last week.
Mario Taguiwalo from Pulse Asia says that traditionally radical changes such as rewriting the Constitution come from people who are outside the circle of power. This one, however, is coming from the ruling party which logically would want to retain its grip on power. Given the continuing challenge to the Arroyo administration and the prospects of another impeachment round in July, people naturally surmise it must be related to the President’s political survival. That explains the hush-hush and the mad rush. Therefore, the regrettable part of this cynical public view is that, whatever merit there may be in constitutional change, the motive will always be suspect. Even that could perhaps be surmounted by a genuine, extended public information and consultation series. Alas, that won’t have room with Joe de V’s train schedule.
Will Malacañang have its way in July? The proponents, it appears, are confident. It’s all about momentum, organization, and resources. Certainly, they have all that. The government is now operating on a reenacted budget. That implies that the government’s budget is one big greasy pork barrel that can be juggled to buy the loyalty of legislators and local government executives. That is why the Chacha train is running surreptitiously at the local level and not the national level. They all know that, since people could not vote with their brains given the lack of an honest-t- goodness information campaign, they may just opt to vote with their guts, or what their local leaders will say.
Or will they? According to Pulse Asia, the pro-Charter change sentiment comes largely from an anti-GMA sentiment. Maybe because they thought it’s the best way to get rid of Mrs. Arroyo from the Palace. This sentiment—regrettable because it’s so cynical to equate changing the basic law of the land simply with a regime change— has been rising since last year. But since it’s GMA herself who is now pushing for Cha-cha, some of the pro-Charter change people who don’t like her might yet reverse their views.
The debate has just started; Chacha therefore may not yet be a walk in the park. Cha-cha drivers are well advised not to underestimate the people.