NO TO CHACHA…shouts the headlines. No, it’s not an anti dance movement, but politics in the Philippines.

In the USA, Bill Clinton used to pit the right against the left and grab the middle. Bush, instead, stands his ground, leading to an opposition of left wing Democrats that sound like they never grew up from McGovern and think like they still smoke 20 year old weed.

But here in the Philippines, there is the right, there is the left, there are the Catholics, there are twenty other church groups, there are the up and coming businessmen, there are the Manila elite, and there are the communists, and a thousand other groups that fight all the time. Usually they fight with words (talk shows are popular here) but once in awhile, there are huge, usually peaceful demonstrations.

And one is scheduled tomorrow in Manila. The background is this (and I apologize if I get some details mixed up).

Last year, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was under a cloud about corruption in office, and there was a bill of impeachment.

While she was Vice President, she had thrown out the popular but corrupt Erap, an ex movie star whose real name was Joseph Estrada, for corruption, and later was officially elected president. But then, there were clouds over her own campaign, questions about missing government funds being used, and questions about counting votes.

But the clincher was the “hello Garci” tapes, where someone taped a phone conversation between GMA and an election commissioner, which seemed to be asking about stuffing the ballot box (although she says they were just discussing counting the ballots). To make things worse, although the government quickly banned publication of the phone call, it was sold openly by street vendors, and “hello garci” ringtones were available over the Internet for your cellphone (And in the Philippines, everyone has a cellphone to text each other).

In typical Philippine fashion, by the time the tapes were verified as true, they were too late to introduce into her impeachment hearings, and the impeachment move failed.
So GMA, in her next state of the union address, instead of addressing the problem of corruption, introduced the idea of “charter change” to a constituent assembly. After all, she was a classmate of Bill Clinton. Getting impeached? Change the subject.

The idea introduced was to change the present constitution, which like the American constitution elects presidents for a fixed term, to a parliamentary system similar to the UK, where an unpopular president or prime minister can be more easily removed.

Cynical Pinoys quickly shortened this to “Cha Cha to Con Ass”.

The English talk shows of radio and TV (sorry, my Tagalog is not good enough to follow the Tagalog radio talk) were full of politicians discussing the “people’s initiative” for charter change.

“People’s initiative”? No, actually it’s GMA’s initiative. But most governors and the council of mayors were behind the change. And Congress was in favor of holding a constitutional convention (Con Con) to amend the constitution, and have delegates to the convention voted on during the next election in May, despite the fact that the Senate was against changing the constitution.

And since Congress is due to discuss the matter next week, the usual opposition decided that this weekend, when the now cancelled ASEAN meeting was supposed to be held in Cebu, would be a good weekend to have a demonstration against ChaCha.

The bad news?

The churches came out against ChaCha.

The Catholic Bishops and the leader of the large Charismatic group ElShaddai have announced prayer rallies. Earlier, the leader of the charismatic “Jesus is Lord” group had announced they are also joining the prayer rally during the anti-constituent assembly (con-ass) nationwide rallies.

This is in addition to the “usual suspects”, i.e. the strong left wing groups who demonstrate all the time (which includes many Catholic clergy and nuns of course), and for good measure, the transportation union members are joining in.

But the last straw was Friday night, when the Iglesia ni Christo, a local Protestant church that includes many influential businessmen, met with Arroyo and her Chief of Staff Defensor and said they too were against changing the constitution..
So on Friday, GMA came out against Charter change, throwing her cabinet and many in the congress in disarray.

So enquiring minds want to know. Will Cha cha be resurrected at a later date? Will the Catholics and Protestants and businessmen and union members and leftists and elites march and pray tomorrow? Will the streets be flooded with people, or just flooded with the heavy rain from the latest typhoon?

Cynics here north of Manila shrug, and figure no matter what happens, the country will continue to be run by the Manila elite. In the meanwhile, the harvest is done, the next planting is not until January, and the one month Christmas holiday/fiesta season has arrived.

Behala na.

Whatever will be will be…
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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, six dogs, three cats, and a large extended family. Her web site is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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