Bring up the subject of charter change among any of the groups of bystanders and would be political pundits that frequent the street corners of Lianga in the early mornings or late afternoons and you are more than likely to get snorts of exasperation, plenty of head shakes and other bodily signs and gestures of acute frustration. That is indeed one sore topic for discussion that almost everybody here in even in this remote and provincial town has gotten rather tired of talking about anymore.
Yet like the phoenix (apologies here to Mark Borders, no pun intended), that mythical bird of the ancients that supposedly resurrects itself from the flames of its own funeral pyre, charter or constitutional change is simply that kind of controversy that keeps on coming back. And it keeps on resurfacing in the news and the popular consciousness not because the people want or need it (like they need another hole in their heads) but because the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo keeps trying to find the darnedest, most silly excuse to bring that subject up again and again for consideration even after it has been, for countless times now, struck down and overwhelmingly rejected by popular consensus.
To many people here in Lianga, the issue is understood in the most simplest of terms. Point one, the President's six year term ends in 2010 and she is prohibited by the Constitution from running for reelection. Point two, many elected officials all over the country also face the same the problem since constitutional term limits also prohibited them from serving, in the case of local government executives, more than three consecutive three-year terms. Point three, previous attempts to initiate moves to amend the constitution by means of the so called "people's initiative" have failed dismally for lack of widespread public support and a constitutional convention is deemed to be too expensive a process in these time of economic crisis.
Thus coursing the amendment process through Congress sitting as a constituent assembly is the most logical and cost effective way for those itching to remove constitutional term limits under the guise of pushing forwards with amendments purported to promote federalism, remove equity restrictions and limits on foreign ownership in the local economy, or shift the type of government from presidential to parliamentary and the type of legislature from unicameral to bicameral. This is how most people here see the controversy yet Malacañang and its cha-cha allies are trying their best to minimize the issue on term limits while at the same time making it appear that the matter of constitutional amendments is an urgent matter of the highest national priority.
In truth and despite the government's insistence, it is not.
Ask the ordinary man on the streets of Lianga, the members of the "sunog-baga" crowd drinking their troubles away on its street corners or the habitues of the "sosyal" circles of the town's elite. Ask them all what should be the major and top concerns of the national government and they will all tell you the same thing. Fight graft and corruption in government, stop rampant criminality, take care of the economy and enable the ordinary Joe in the remotest corners of the country to feel and reap the benefits of the much bruited "strong economic fundamentals" the government is always boasting of and, finally, to address, once and for all, the roots of the communist and Muslim insurgencies that continue to sap the energy and lifeblood of this nation. They may speak with different voices but they will essentially tell you the same things.
So enough of this cha-cha, con-ass or whatever. Mikey Arroyo, the presidential son, and congressional representative from Pampanga, who is one of the prime movers of this latest attempt at constitutional re-engineering together with Rep. Luis Villafuerte of Camrines Sur should stop pulling our legs and not underestimate the ordinary Filipino's capability to understand the true nature of all these recent political developments. As a former movie actor, he, himself, understands the line between illusion and reality, between the truth and window dressing, and the need for charter change now is one illusion that he and his cohorts cannot pull off even half convincingly.
That is not to say, however, that any proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution do not deserved to be heard or considered. In my talks with the local people in the Lianga area then and now, it is always the motivation and true intent of the proposals or amendments that matter in the end. Perhaps a more honest and transparent political administration with enough reserves of political credibility can set the stage for a true and meaningful dialogue on constitutional change in the near future.
As of now, however, President Arroyo must accept the fact that on that this one particular issue, most certainly, the majority of the Filipino people do not trust her motives, at least not enough to have the courage to walk across the floor of the dance floor, look into her eyes and ask her out to dance the night away.