Cha-cha in a pandemic

Cha-cha in a pandemic

With the COVID vaccination program unfolding like a natural disaster, politicians allied with the administration are preparing to tackle an issue they believe deserves as much or even more urgent attention than the public health crisis: Charter change.

Cha-cha, because of the issues involved and the complex process of ratifying any change of even a single line in the Constitution, is best initiated at the start of a president’s term. Any change will entail extensive public debates, after which the final result will have to be presented to the Filipino people for ratification in a nationwide plebiscite. The process could be prolonged if a legal challenge is brought before the Supreme Court.

Yet here we are, still battling a killer pandemic, with several lawmakers preoccupying themselves with Cha-cha. This is while Filipinos continue to lose their livelihoods due to COVID and watch wistfully as vaccination with reliable shots gets underway in about 50 countries. We were supposed to get the Pfizer / BioNTech shots this month. Instead, 10 million doses went to Singapore, which kicked off its inoculation yesterday with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong getting the first dose to promote trust in the vaccine.

It’s noteworthy that Cha-cha initiatives keep popping up in the final months of a presidency. As in previous Cha-cha efforts, the political sponsors insist that it is not meant to lift term limits or allow incumbent officials to stay longer in power.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III disclosed that last December, President Duterte had expressed hope for the abolition of the party-list system, which he believes has been abused by groups calling for the fall of the government or are not marginalized. The President’s sentiment is not without basis; the party-list system has in fact become a mockery of its intended representation of the marginalized, with certain parties not even representing a specific group.

Any constitutional reform, however, will have to wait until the country is over this worst crisis since World War II. Lives and livelihoods have been lost and continue to be at risk. In March last year, San Francisco author Tomas Pueyo, in an explainer article titled “The Hammer and the Dance,” said that after the “hammer” of lockdowns, people should learn to “dance” with COVID. Surely he wasn’t referring to Cha-cha. The crisis calls for the full attention of the country and the entire government, without self-serving distractions.