Business sector raises fears over Cha-cha move

The business community’s joint statement issued on Friday against the revived efforts in Congress to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution drew attention to the dubious intentions and wrong priorities of those behind this latest Cha-cha initiative.

It showed that its proponents are lamentably out of touch with the realities on the ground as it succinctly described the selfish motives that they’re trying to conceal.

“We believe that introducing any Charter change 15 months before presidential elections will only raise fears that other constitutional changes, some of which may be highly controversial, may be introduced and passed,” said the statement.

The business community leaders read through the deceptive intentions behind the resuscitated Cha-cha dance in the legislature by administration allies.

The signatories include influential groups such as the Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP), Makati Business Club (MBC), Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), and Philippine Retailers Association (PRA).

The Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (Finex), Filipina CEO Circle, Investment House Association of the Philippines, Judicial Reform Initiative, Philippine Women’s Economic Network, and Women’s Business Council also signed the statement, urging lawmakers to focus on pending measures that could ease the country’s recovery from the adverse impact of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

This also proves that the proponents did not even consult business industry leaders in pushing their latest bid to amend the restrictive economic provisions in the Charter and open up certain areas to foreign investment.

Let it not be mistaken to mean that the business community is against liberalizing the investment climate. The strong message it sends to the legislators is that tinkering with the Constitution is ill-timed.

It’s also easy to read the real motives behind the move. As I’ve said before, creating highly divisive and controversial issues such as Cha-cha at this time is meant to divert attention from mounting criticisms on the administration’s failure to effectively address the Covid-19 vaccination brouhaha.

The refusal of officials involved in the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccines to be transparent in their dealings with manufacturers, particularly with China’s Sinovac, as well as the controversies over the inoculation of President Rodrigo Duterte’s close-in security with unregistered vaccines, raises strong suspicions of irregularity and low regard for public accountability.

The military’s red-tagging of 28 alumni of the University of the Philippines is yet another attempt to draw discussions away from the administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 vaccine procurement and other criticisms that the Cha-cha move has failed to cover up.

The malicious tagging of the UP alumni as members of the communist New People’s Army (NPA) in the now-deleted post on the Facebook page of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Information Exchange on Jan. 22 was either an irresponsible or a well-studied bait to stir yet another controversy for the public to talk about and forget the issues of widespread corruption, human rights abuses and COVID-19.

Just the mere inclusion of prominent names such as lawyers Alex Padilla and Raffy Aquino of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), playwright Liza Magtoto, former journalist and government official Elmer Mercado, development worker Marie Lisa Dacanay and economic journalist Roel Landingin as former UP students who have died or were captured during military operations was already a strong indication that the list was something that should not be taken seriously.

The list also includes Singapore-based journalist Roberto Coloma, chief of the Agence France-Presse Singapore-Malaysia bureau.

They are all very much alive and have never been captured in any military operations. Although they have admitted to joining protest rallies, especially during their student days, they declared that they have never joined the NPA, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

But to those who don’t know these persons and who were not aware that actor-director Behn Cervantes, who was also on the list, died of diabetes in 2013, they would mostly likely believe the military’s yarn that the country’s premier state university is a breeding ground for communism.

The President, with strong support from the military and police, has long been vocal about his dislike for criticism and people who go against his policies and distorted values and beliefs.

If the President, his spokesmen and ranking military officers could easily make up stories, destroy the reputation of prominent persons and get away with their own devious practices, and in the middle of a pandemic at that, how can we achieve unity in helping the Philippine economy recover?

People behind these unsettling distractions are too selfish and unmindful of the adverse effects of their disuniting actions to institutions and the country. These we have to keep in mind when we choose candidates to vote in the next elections and make sure that they will never ever get elected.

The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.