By DJ Yap, Jeannette I. Andrade, and Julie M. Aurelio, July 21, 2020; Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philipines — Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, the chair of the House constitutional amendments panel, will call a meeting after next week’s State of the Nation Address (Sona) to determine whether it will be necessary or appropriate to discuss charter change (Cha-cha) proposals in the middle of a persisting health crisis.
Rodriguez said he wished to “get the sense of his members and leaders of the House on discussing [Cha-cha] amid the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“I will call a virtual meeting of our committee possibly within the first two weeks of our session to tackle the proposals of our 1,489 town mayors and other pending measures,” the Mindanao lawmaker said on Monday.
Rodriguez’s statement was a departure from his position in May when he said he was not keen to “divide our people” by pursuing Cha-cha when the coronavirus threat had not yet abated.
“This is not the right time to push for Charter change through [a] signature campaign, whether physical or online,” he had said, referring to an initiative of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to gather popular support for constitutional reforms.
“Also Charter change is a very contentious issue and we don’t want to divide our people on this matter at this time,” added Rodriguez, whose committee was tasked with deliberating on proposals to amend or revise the Constitution.
The second regular session of the 18th Congress shall start in the morning of July 27. In the afternoon, President Duterte will deliver his Sona before a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
On Friday, the DILG announced that the League of Municipalities, a grouping of town mayors, was pushing two Cha-cha proposals.
These are the institutionalization of the so-called Mandanas ruling of the Supreme Court on internal revenue allotments (IRA) of local government units and the lifting of restrictions on foreign investment in businesses currently limited to Filipinos.
The Mandanas ruling expands the basis for the computation of IRA to include collections not only of the Bureau of Internal Revenue but also the customs duties collected by the Bureau of Customs, a part of taxes collected in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, taxes from exploitation of national wealth, excise tax on tobacco products, other taxes provided in the National Internal Revenue Code, and franchise taxes.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said while he was “personally sympathetic” to the bid of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines, constitutional reform is not high on the government’s agenda. “The President addresses the public weekly, and Charter change was not floated as a priority,” Roque said in a press briefing.
“The truth is, the President and the entire government, through the Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases is focused on the COVID-19 problem,” he said.
Roque appealed to the municipal mayors for understanding, saying he believed that their advocacy to increase the IRA allotment for improved public services is correct.
In the past, the President has openly advocated for constitutional reform and pushed for a shift to a federal form of government.
In 2018, he created a task force to raise awareness about the proposed reforms on federalism. A consultative committee has also submitted its draft constitutional amendments to the President that year.
The DILG maintained on Monday that its push for surgical changes in the charter is practically ministerial as the agency moves to submit to Congress a resolution of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines supporting constitutional reform (Core).
DILG Undersecretary for plans public affairs and communications and spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said he saw nothing wrong with calling for Core while the government continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are now in the new normal and this [Core] is really part of the mandate of the department,” Malaya, project administrator of the DILG center for federalism and Core, said in an interview at ABS-CBN news channel.
The interagency task force on Core is chaired by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año.
The latest move to seek surgical amendments on the Constitution, he claimed, is connected to the pandemic.
“So we’d like to push for Core so that there is greater regional development. So that next time a pandemic comes, the entire Philippine economy will not shut down just because Metro Manila is [at] a standstill because of a lockdown. There has to be a greater distribution of resources to the provinces in order to prepare ourselves for a future pandemic,” he said.