House won't tackle charter change amid pandemic, solon says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) — The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments is suspending deliberations on any proposal to amend the charter during the coronavirus crisis.

Committee chairman Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said in a statement on Thursday that he is also "inclined to recommend" to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano "that we shelve Cha-cha indefinitely so we can focus on measures to fight this pandemic."

He is confident Cayetano would agree with him, since the House leader has been vocal on prioritizing the pandemic over other issues. Meanwhile, the constitutional amendments committee will not tackle any proposal on charter change, he said.

Rodriguez made the statement in the wake of reports that the Department of Interior and Local Government is conducting an online signature campaign to support amendments to the Constitution. Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senator Kiko Pangilinan said this should be the least of Congress' concerns since people are losing jobs and going hungry because of the pandemic.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, in an interview with ANC, denied that the DILG was gathering signatures, but the Philippine Daily Inquirer said DILG Undersecretary and Spokesperson Jonathan Malaya himself confirmed the authenticity of the memorandum they obtained on the online signature campaign.

A government website, http://constitutionalreform.gov.ph/, has an "I am for CoRe" page, where the public can express support for charter change. It has a reminder that those who had signed for the CORE Signature Campaign in the past no longer need to do so online.

In December last year, the constitutional amendments panel swiftly approved a resolution seeking to amend the Constitution – but an anti-political dynasty provision and other political and electoral reforms were left out. The committee then recalled the approval in order to consider the proposed amendments being offered by the executive, which included controversial restrictions on political dynasties.

The House panel last held a hearing on the issue in February. The Philippines recorded its first COVID-19 case on January 30.

The total number of confirmed coronavirus infections is now at more than 13,000, with 842 deaths and 2,932 recoveries. Much of the country is under general community quarantine, while other areas, including Metro Manila, are under stricter lockdown rules that displaced millions of workers.

“This is not the time for the DILG and its allies to relaunch their signature drive and renew their push for Cha-cha. They should postpone it until this health crisis is over,” Rodriguez said in his statement.

“So my message to Cha-cha advocates and their DILG patrons is: stop it, it won’t fly while there is a pandemic,” he added.