Genuine Dialogue, Not Signature Campaign, Needed on Charter Change

Mar. 26, 2006

MANILA — The government seems bent on railroading charter change (Cha-cha) as it pursues a peoples initiative by gathering signatures during barangay assemblies to be held March 25 and October 21. But instead of a signature drive for Cha-cha, what the people need are genuine dialogues and consultations, says independent think-tank Ibon Foundation.

But results of the Ibon nationwide survey last January showed that majority of respondents were unaware of so-called reforms that government says requires a Cha-cha, such as local government autonomy; the shift to a parliamentary system; and removing limits on foreign ownership in utilities, natural resources extraction and agricultural land. Of those who were aware of the issues, 65% said they were not in favor of governments charter change moves.

According to Ibon research director Antonio Tujan, Malacaang is apparently pushing for a people’s initiative because a constitutional convention would take too long and opposition from senators would block a constituent assembly.

It is clear that the Arroyo administration is forcing charter change in order to assure that the president perpetuate herself in power and promote foreign and local elite and corporate interests, says Tujan. Current charter change proposals would allow President Gloria Arroyo to stay in office in the face of growing public discontent on her administration. The removal or softening of economic sovereignty provisions in the Constitution would also allow the further exploitation of the countrys natural resources and labor by foreign corporations.

Furthermore, Ibon questions the use of government money to assure Arroyos political survival and the promotion of foreign corporate interests. Governor Jerico Petilla of Leyte province revealed that he had given some 3,000 pesos as mobilization fund to each of his provinces more than 1,400 chairpersons to gather the needed signatures. If this were repeated throughout the countrys 41,940 barangays, it would add up to more than P125.8 million from the nations coffers. (Ibon)

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