The real Cha-cha goal

“ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR CHA-CHA,” SCREAMED the headlines a few days ago. “We advocate federalism as a way to ensure long-lasting peace in Mindanao,” President Macapagal-Arroyo told visiting Swiss President Pascal Couchepin.

Federalism Cha-cha. Obviously, the Palace is using the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) negotiated in secret by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as the bogey to revive Charter change. It is riding on the crest of Joint Resolution No. 10 sponsored by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr., calling for the convening of a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to create 11 federal states in the Philippines.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said GMA was fully supporting federalism as the way to implement the GRP-MILF MOA creating the so-called Bangsamoro Juridical Entity (BJE). The BJE would be proposed as one of the 11 federated states. He flatly denied the “naughty insinuation that she is going for Charter change because she wants to extend her term of office.”

This denial is deceptively clever. Technically, GMA does not want a new term under the present presidential system. If, as sitting president, she were allowed by a Charter change to seek another term, she would then have to run a nationwide campaign for reelection. Given her abysmal public approval rating, she has no chance of being reelected even if she called 10 “Garcis.”

Parliamentary Cha-cha. Significantly, Dureza did not deny that GMA has long ago lusted for the parliamentary system. In fact, in 2006, her minions launched a rather crude people’s initiative for it. This was however rejected by the Supreme Court as a “gigantic fraud” on our people. Now, her surrogates are going for it again via the Con-ass. The parliamentary objective is the same, but the mode to achieve it has changed.

Understandably, GMA wants the parliamentary system so she could run in a much smaller constituency, a parliamentary district, and then retain power as prime minister of the Republic. Compared to a nationwide presidential vote, the parliamentary option is the much easier route for her to remain in reign.

Thus, in my columns on July 20 titled “Can GMA reign beyond 2010?” and July 27 titled “Can GMA win the Cha-cha war?” (accessible through inquirer.net or my personal website, cjpanganiban.ph), I explained how the Con-ass could be convened, how the constitutionally required three-fourths vote could be skirted, how the counter-checking role of the Congress, Supreme Court and Commission on Elections could be surmounted, and how a two-year timeline could be attained.

If (a big if) the parliamentary Cha-cha succeeds, the election in May 2010 would no longer be held to choose GMA’s successor as ordained by the present Constitution but to elect members of Parliament under the revised Charter. GMA would run for a parliamentary seat in Pampanga and then become prime minister.

Overzealous supporters may even include a Cha-cha provision canceling the 2010 elections altogether and naming simply all the present national officials (president, vice president, senators and representatives) as members of an Interim Parliament. This subterfuge would assure GMA’s continuous reign without need of any election, whether national or local. Also, this no-el scenario will ensure the enthusiastic support of local officials who will themselves remain in office.

Complicated Cha-cha. Debating and explaining both federalism (to accommodate the GRP-MILF MOA) and parliamentarism (to extend GMA’s reign) would be complicated, confusing and time-consuming. Lawyers and political scientists know that these two concepts have many variations and ramifications that could indefinitely delay the Cha-cha.

True, federalism has many advantages. But it is equally true that the many federated states (like the United States, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Malaysia, etc.) do not practice it uniformly. Neither is there a single parliamentary model. The parliamentary system in Great Britain is different from that in France, Italy and Japan. Given that GMA wants the Cha-cha to be completed before her term expires, there is simply no time for long, simultaneous debates on both federalism and parliamentarism.

Also, the GRP-MILF MOA is so riddled with incredible flaws that it would be more difficult to sell to our people than the parliamentary shift. The parliamentary Cha-cha merely seeks to alter the form of our government, but the MOA (which I shall discuss extensively at another time) proposes to dismember our territorial integrity and to scuttle our country’s sovereignty. Again, while the MOA may be useful to revive the Cha-cha, it cannot last long as the reason for it.

Hence, the federalism ploy would soon be dropped by GMA to focus on the Cha-cha?s parliamentary centerpiece. Of course, to prove the alleged urgency of Charter change, GMA needed to show the GRP-MILF MOA as Exhibit 1. As I said in my two earlier pieces, nothing prevents the Con-ass—once convened—from dancing the parliamentary Cha-cha with soothing federal music. But we must never ever forget that the real reason for the shindig is the parliamentary swing.

Let us all face this monumental battle squarely. Abandon the pretension, double talk and deception. There is only one real goal for Charter change: to extend GMA?s reign beyond June 30, 2010. Let those who favor it be transparent. Let them remove their gloves. Let the oppositors bare their knuckles. And let the real Cha-cha bout begin.

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