Charter change only 20 votes shy
Villar: Arroyo’s sons behind Con-ass mode
MANILA, Philippines—A move in the House of Representatives to amend the Constitution and bypass the Senate in the process is only 20 votes shy of the required number, indicating a plan to set aside next year’s balloting remains alive, Sen. Manuel Villar said Tuesday.
Villar was referring to the resolution drafted by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, president of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s party the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), seeking to convene Congress into a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution.
“They will continuously try and get all the numbers,” Villar said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer a day after President Arroyo signed into law a bill providing P11.3 billion for the full automation of the 2010 elections.
Villar said the drive in Congress to abolish the presidential system and give way to a parliamentary or federal system was being pushed by Ms Arroyo’s two sons in Congress—Mikey and Dato.
Asked if the President was involved, Villar said: “I don’t think she will object to it if it’s there already. Right now, she’s leaving the matter to her children. She’s still undecided.”
Mikey told the Inquirer he had not withdrawn his signature from the resolution and that the Charter change (Cha-cha) issue would come to a head “very soon.”
Villafuerte is gathering 197 signatures for the resolution before filing it. The number represents three-fourths of the combined Senate and House membership, which he said the Constitution prescribes for any Charter amendment under the Con-ass mode.
“It’s just 20 votes shy,” Villar said of the magic number.
But he pointed out that the House could not go it alone, reminding congressmen that the Constitution contemplated two-thirds of the Senate and the House, voting separately, to amend any provision of the Charter.
The Senate has objected to Con-ass, with majority of senators preferring a constitutional convention after the 2010 elections.
Villar said Ms Arroyo knew that her time in Malacañang was running out.
‘Hawks’ pulling strings
But “hawks” in the Cabinet were pulling the strings so that the administration-controlled House would finally endorse the move which will give Ms Arroyo a fresh new term—either as interim president or prime minister.
Asked if Ms Arroyo’s sons could muster enough votes in the House to force Cha-cha, Villar said it would depend on whether Ms Arroyo would “go all-out.”
Ms Arroyo has not taken a public position on the Con-ass move. Malacañang has said it was staying away from a purely legislative function.
Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez of Kampi said that the House should be able to tackle the Con-ass resolution upon the resumption of its session on April 13 following the month-long Lenten break.
“We will not be able to come to a decision on the Con-ass if we do not debate it during the plenary. Until then, the issue will continue to hang over our heads,” Suarez said in a press conference.
Senate to SC
Mikey said that there was no reason to declare the Con-ass “dead” until he and the rest of the 180 congressmen who had signed the Con-ass resolution had taken their names off the list of endorsers.
The House interpretation of the majority vote creating a Con-ass is expected to provoke the Senate into seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court.
Should the high court uphold its position, the House will proceed with its move to change the Charter that critics fear could include lifting of term limits.
On Oct. 25, 2006, the Supreme Court dismissed by an 8-7 vote a petition for a “people’s initiative” to amend the Constitution and adopt the parliamentary system, saying it would not allow itself to be a party to a “grand deception.”
The high tribunal then said that it would not allow the Constitution to be “set adrift … in uncharted waters, to be tossed and turned by every dominant political group of the day.”
With vacancies coming up in the Supreme Court that Ms Arroyo would fill, there are fears that an administration-dominated tribunal could rule in her favor if the Con-ass voting question comes up.
Nograles on way out?
Efforts to revive the Con-ass resolution have spurred rumors that Speaker Prospero Nograles, who has been criticized for his ineffective steering of Charter change, was on his way out.
Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez, one of the major sponsors of the resolution, is reported to be meeting with Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. and offering him back his old post as Speaker.
Although De Venecia had a falling out with the President after his son exposed the scuttled NBN-ZTE deal, the administration apparently still considers him the best man to rally support in Congress for Charter change.
Mikey has denied leading efforts to oust Nograles or approaching De Venecia. But he said Nograles should take rumors of his ouster as par for the course.
“The Speaker of the House is the most vulnerable position in Congress because he can be changed anytime by the members once they lose confidence in him, he should know that,” Mikey said.
Villar called on Ms Arroyo to once and for all stop Charter change and spend her remaining months in office working for her legacy—“pull us out of the financial crisis and peaceful transition of power in 2010.”
“That’s the best legacy she can leave. That’s a one-two punch,” he said.
Villar said Ms Arroyo has two other options, besides Charter change: “Declare martial law—I don’t think it’s likely, but there’s still a chance it will be resorted to—and fund a winnable presidential candidate, or she will not support anyone at all.”
He said Ms Arroyo’s support for a friendly successor in Malacañang could be “hidden or declared out in the open.”
Besides the Con-ass mode, another route was proposed by Nograles under House Resolution No. 737.
In the resolution, he proposes to amend the Constitution’s economic provisions to relax foreign ownership of domestic businesses, including those that the Charter limits to Filipino citizens such as media entities.
Nograles said his resolution would take the legislative process route, which means that after the House approved it, the proposed measure would be sent to the Senate for its own action or concurrence.
The Nograles resolution is up for plenary debate when Congress resumes session next month.