“Worst Cha-Cha ever” exempts congressmen from income tax
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If approved by Congress, the charter change it proposed under Resolution of Both Houses No. 8 will not only make President Rodrigo Duterte the most powerful chief executive in the history of the Philippines but will also exempt congressmen from payment of income tax.

Atty. Neri Colmenares underscored the need for the people to oppose what he described as the “worst Cha-Cha ever” in his discussion during the Forum on Federalism and Charter Change conducted by the Diocese of Virac last April 23, 2018 at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Virac.

The former Bayan Muna representative explained that while there are two pending proposals before Congress – one by the ruling PDP-Laban and the other RBH 8 – and another being drafted by the Consultative Committee tasked to review the 1987 Constitution, it will be Congress who will consider the proposals through a Constituent Assembly and not through the preferred Constitutional Convention.

He said that while there is nothing wrong with amending the Constitution, current moves to do so under the Duterte administration are not merely proposing a shift to Federalism, but are actual efforts at centralizing power to Pres. Duterte, granting him legislative powers, institutionalizing the discredited economic liberalization policy and diluting people’s rights.

The human rights lawyer described RBH 8 as an “extremely dangerous piece of legislation” as it contains provisions that abolishes Congress, grants Pres. Duterte legislative powers, practically abolishes the current constitutional commissions, and overhauls the judiciary from the Court of Appeals and Sandiganbayan down to the Regional Trial Courts and terminates thousands of government employees and officials.

“Hindi na matutuloy ang 2019 elections,” Colmenares said, as approval of the Cha-Cha proposal has a one-year transition period where the interim parliament to be appointed by Duterte will include members of the Cabinet who are not elected representatives.

Control of the judiciary will also be given to the president, as the retirement age of incumbent justices will be lowered to 65 from the present 70 years, while those who will be appointed as replacements by Duterte will hold office until the age of 75. “The judiciary will be littered with Duterte appointees who will serve long after 2022 when the president’s term ends,” he pointed out.

All constitutional commissions – the Civil Service Commission, Commission on Audit and the Commission on Elections – will also be controlled by the president as incumbents will continue holding office for one year after which their terms end.

“This will be a rare moment when a single man appoints all constitutional commission members, including incumbents,” the lawyer said.

RBH 8 also abolishes the Office of the Vice President, with the Senate President or the House Speaker taking over in case of death or incapacity of the President, he added.

In a massive government revamp, he stated, all career civil servants will be considered separated from the service following the ratification of the new Constitution and will be entitled to retirement and other benefits, but those who are retired ahead of time will find it hard to find new jobs.

Under the same proposals, a powerful president and prime minister will have oversight powers over the entire government and even call Supreme Court justices and COMELEC chief to Malacañang.

“Duterte will be a very dangerous, very intimidating president,” Colmenares opined.

RBH 8 also enshrines the pork barrel in the Constitution, with each congressional district and partylist group to be entitled to an annual share in the state and federal budgets for its infrastructure, medical, educational and social services for constituents. “The pork barrel should go directly to the people and should not pass through the hands of congressmen,” he said.

The former congressman also revealed that there could be no elections in 2019 if the terms of current officials are extended, as the first election of the federal constitution would be set on the second Monday of May 2022.

“If the Cha-Cha is pushed before 2019, the elections may be cancelled,” Colmenares said. “Hinahabol ng iilan na maaprub ito para dirediretso sila.”

The same proposal grants exemption to top government officials from the president down to members of both Houses and the chief justice from the payment of income tax allegedly to lessen corruption,” he disclosed.


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