Cha-cha drive alive amid health crisis
MANILA, Philippines — The coronavirus crisis is not stopping the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) from pushing Charter change (Cha-cha) and it has directed its regional offices and supporters to continue gathering up to 2 million signatures over the next two months to back amendments to the Constitution, the Inquirer has learned.
From the physical signature campaign, the drive to support what the DILG calls constitutional reform (CORE) has gone online to meet a July deadline while adapting to conditions created by the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), according to a senior official and documents obtained by the Inquirer.
Before the pandemic, the DILG was aiming for 2 million signatures nationwide to be presented to both houses of Congress “to inform them of the support we have gathered for the CORE from the regions,” said one memorandum dated Jan. 28 from Interior Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya.
One constitutional reform proposed by the DILG is the institutionalization of the Mandanas decision of the Supreme Court, which ruled that the source of the internal revenue allotments for local governments should be all national taxes, not only those collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, thus increasing the funds to be given to all regions.
It wants to transform the regional development council from a recommendatory body to a full-fledged regional development authority with powers and funds for programs that need no approval from Manila. It also backs calls to open the economy to more foreign investments and land ownership to spur economic activity and create more jobs.
As part of political reforms, the DILG is proposing the regulation of all political parties and banning political turncoatism.
After the creation of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) on CORE headed by Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, the DILG regional directors organized “Balangayan CORE roadshows” in 62 provinces last year to increase public awareness and drum up support for proposed constitutional amendments.
With the launching of the CORE movement also last year, the DILG regional directors were tasked with gathering an initial 1 million signatures nationwide, each given a target of 30,000, according to the Jan. 28 memo.
Another memo from Malaya, dated March 27, extended the deadline for submission of the 30,000 signatures from March 31 to April 30, but he also directed each regional director raise that number to at least 100,000 by May 29 to amass “a considerable number of 2 million signatures to be submitted to Congress.”
For the National Capital Region, the target was set at 176,865. The biggest target of 216,859 signatures was given to Region 4-A (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon).
Focus on COVID-19
The first deadline was extended because the Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine had already been imposed.
In a phone interview with the Inquirer on Saturday, Malaya, who is also the DILG spokesperson, said the March 27 memo had been superseded by another DILG memo directing all regional directors “to stop all programs and to focus all attention on anti-COVID efforts,” referring to contact tracing, building isolation facilities and implementing quarantine protocols.
“I would like to emphasize, that [constitutional reform] is a core program of the department but it has to go on a backburner together with all other programs of the DILG not related to COVID-19,” he said.“We will continue to pursue that (CORE) after COVID.”
But in a third memo, dated May 11, Malaya told the DILG regional directors and civil society organizations accredited by the Center for Federalism and Constitutional Reform that only “the physical conduct of CORE signature campaign” would be postponed.
“In this regard, we would like to encourage all the regions and civil society organizations to utilize our CORE website for the online signature campaign. The use of this accessible and reliable online platform will eventually help in promoting the campaign as well as gather signatures with more people at home,” the memorandum read.
“The said online signatures will also add up to the number of collected signatures in the regions and civil society organizations, completing the target of 2 million signatures in July.”
In the Inquirer interview, Malaya said the DILG’s “principal priority” at this time was the pandemic. All the other programs, projects and activities (PPAs) of the department will be second priority “but will still continue subject to limitations imposed by our current situation,” he said.
“What will our staff do if we don’t proceed with our PPAs at least online?” Malaya said.
Adding a new dimension to the CORE campaign, Malaya said it was now part “of the broad Balik Probinsya program which is the government’s long-term readiness plan (versus) pandemia.”
“The ultimate goal of ‘Balik Probinsiya’ is Angat Probinsiya which is to create economic opportunities in the provinces to decongest Metro Manila, which is also the goal of the CORE campaign: Regional development, more IRA (internal revenue allotment) for the regions, greater foreign investments in regional growth corridors, among others,” he said.
He said the pandemic has “clearly shown us that unequal economic development across regions is a grave problem not only social-economic wise but also health- and governance-wise.”
Malaya also clarified that the CORE campaign was unrelated to the move, through a people’s initiative, to shift to a federal form of government.
“The DILG is not pushing people’s initiative,” he said, noting that it was a private effort. “This (CORE) is different from federalism since this is just amendments and not revision of the Constitution.”
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