March 5, 2024

by Xandra Liza C. Bisenio

Recently, I shared IBON’s analysis of the controversial push to amend the 1987 Constitution with the urban poor community in Barangay Tatalon, Quezon City. The participants agreed that Charter change, or Cha-cha, does not solve poverty and even adds threats on their already hard life.

Unregulated foreign direct investments (FDI) in the country have for the past decades not translated into economic development. Trade deficit and foreign plunder of the country’s resources only worsened. Despite FDI growth, joblessness increased and incomes fell. It doesn’t need the so-called brilliant minds to conclude that the clamor by Cha-cha proponents to remove the restrictions to more foreign investments to usher progress is wrong.

Life has generally remained difficult despite the influx of FDI – this community is testimony to that. The elderly among the participants recounted how life has always been hard in the community. During Martial Law, their incomes from mostly vulnerable jobs could not cope with prices that soared uncontrollably. This is still the case today, and they cannot see how Cha-cha instead of explicit policies for a wage hike, lower prices and free or affordable goods and services, can actually help better their condition.

What further raised the participants’ concern is how the so-called economic Cha-cha (that is, purportedly focused only on amending economic provisions) can open the floodgates to tinkering clauses beyond the stated aim. Past Cha-cha attempts had always included proposals for term extension, among other political, self-serving aims. These had drawn wide opposition.

The community elderly were also alarmed when informed that proposals may delete Constitutional clauses pertaining to economic and social rights. How could elected leaders think of taking these away from their constituents? Even if such had been done in effect by past administrations in crafting policies favoring local and foreign big businesses, it still gives them the shivers if such ideals are totally removed from the highest law of the land.

The following Constitutional clauses have not yet been realized but there have been previous proposals to remove or modify them to fit the ‘free market’ framework:  security of tenure, humane working conditions, a living wage (Article XIII, Sec. 3); decent housing and basic services to underprivileged citizens (Article XIII, Sec. 9); right of farmers, farmworkers (Article XIII, Sec. 5); agrarian reform (Article XIII, Sec. 6); rights of subsistence fishermen (Article XIII, Sec. 7); self-reliant and independent economy (Article II, Sec. 19); industrialization (Article XII, Sec. 1); comprehensive rural development and agrarian reform (Article II, Sec. 21); and trade policy that serves the general welfare and utilizes all forms of arrangements (Article XII, Sec. 13).

We concluded the discussion with the note that effecting change that is necessary for the country to truly develop requires the political will of a genuinely pro-people state. The government must be willing to do the hard work of uprooting stubbornly entrenched profit-oriented neoliberal thinking reflected in attempts to change the Constitution. Such government may prioritize agriculture development, building domestic industries, protecting the environment, upholding rights and welfare, funding development, and forging an independent economy. Instead of a self-serving, pro-business Cha-cha.

The participants added that the younger generation should be learning about current events, the problems the nation faces, and their role as catalysts for social change. Some young people, the elders observed, are easily captivated by modern fixes, technology and digital advancement that inculcate individualism and apathy. Rallying the youth to fight for people’s rights is among the challenges we face but also the most hopeful.

This encounter with Tatalon folk inspired the following song, which I titled “Choose”. I guess the point is that through the years, citizens longing and working for genuine change have been dissuaded, if not persecuted, or totally silenced by the powers that be. Yet people’s clamor for their rights is sustained, because they choose to persevere.

I choose to walk onwards

Guns point at me

Still rather speak my mind

I choose not to unsee

Climb that hill undeterred, poison bids us to yield

Sing our song and be heard, til we run as free as the wind

We choose to march forward

Bombs fall from the sky

Still rather roam unbeholden

To elite facades of might

For every right that we know, every breath that we heave

They put a label and price, no end to their pangs of greed

My prayer is for light for our people our plight

The corrupt and vile they rule they strike

For land abundance rules that benefit the many we fight

For our resources our determination future and life

We will climb that hill undeterred, poison bids us to yield

Sing our song to the world, til we all run as free as the wind