Wake Up, Philippines!

Useless one without the other

Posted in Charter Change by Erineus on June 14, 2009

By Isagani A. Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:10:00 06/14/2009

I BLAME the current controversy on the planned constitutional assembly (con-ass) to an ambiguous provision in the Constitution of 1987 that the Constitutional Commission of 1986 drafted with all supposed care and erudition. That questionable rule is found, incredibly, in Art. XVII on Amendments and Revisions of the great document reading partly as follows:

“Section 1. Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by: (1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members, or (2) a constitutional convention.” (Emphasis supplied).

The body that approved it consisted of an impressive membership headed by a former justice of the Supreme Court, Cecilia Muñoz Palma, as president, and veteran legislator and law practitioner, Ambrosio Padilla, as vice president. It included a former and future chief justice, Roberto Concepcion and Hilario G. Davide Jr., two future justices of the Supreme Court, Florenz D. Regalado and Adolfo S. Azcuna, three-time Speaker Jose B. Laurel Jr., the estimable Blas F. Ople, Lorenzo Sumulong, and Francisco Rodrigo from the Senate, respected civic leaders like Christian Monsod and Jose Nolledo, and Joaquin G. Bernas from the Catholic Church, among many other public figures.

Any one of them could have easily recognized the obvious weakness of the above-cited provision that is now invoked as the basis of the independent action being plotted in the lower House against the Senate.

Speaker Prospero Nograles and his conspirators are arguing that pursuant to the Constitution itself, any change in this fundamental law may be proposed by the House of Representatives despite the non-participation of the Senate. Even if the senators were to join their colleagues in the lower House, they would be outvoted with the required three-fourths vote coming exclusively from the lower House, where the required concurrence could easily be exacted from the mostly obedient cohorts of Malacañang.

True, if we go by the clear wording of the constitutional provision now invoked by Speaker Nograles and his flunkies. The required three-fourths concurrence does not distinguish between the members of the lower House and the members of the Senate, but can simply come from the lower House as “Members of Congress” who alone can propose to change the Constitution. This interpretation conforms to the accepted norm that the clear meaning of a provision must be found in the document itself, in its language that best indicates the intendment of the framers when they adopted the rule in question.

According to Father Bernas, however, that distinction must be inferred from the fact that Congress is a bicameral body consisting of two separate chambers that must act together unless the contrary is indicated. This is exemplified by the approval of bills where the two chambers act in tandem as equal partners in a dual legislature, without the necessity of the Constitution indicating their togetherness in the performance of their common acts. That is the reason, he says, why it was not necessary to clarify in Art. XVII, Sec. 1(1) that the required 3/4 concurrence of the members of Congress meant the separate participation of both Houses of Congress, to give validity to their common decisions. Otherwise, the action alone of the House of Representatives to propose the Con-ass without the Senate would be like a wedding with the bride but not the groom.

That is a plausible theory, except that Art. VI, Sec. 23 (1) cautiously says that “The Congress by a vote of 2/3 of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.” Art. VII, Sec. 9, carefully provides that, in case of a vacancy in the Office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a member of Congress who shall assume office “upon confirmation by a majority vote of all the Members of both Houses of the Congress, voting separately.” Upon the proclamation of martial law or the suspension of the privilege of habeas corpus under Sec. 18, “the Congress, voting jointly, by vote of at least a majority of all its Members in regular or special session” may revoke the presidential acts.

Is the proposal to amend or revise the Constitution less important than the above situations where the reaction of the members of the Congress voting jointly or separately by majority or two-thirds vote is specifically indicated? It is true that a bill granting a tax exemption under Art. VI, Sec. 28(4), and the declaration of amnesty under Art. VII, Sec. 19 are subject to the concurrence of all the members of the Congress, without more from the fussy Commission. I do not believe, however, that such simple process can be expected on such an epochal question as the amendment or revision of the Constitution.

The inadequacy of Art. XVII, Sec 1(1) would have been obvious to a law freshman but did not bother the experts in the Constitutional Commission of 1986 who should have known that one of the qualities of a good written constitution is clarity. They probably simply copied the Constitution of 1973 that established a unicameral legislature and thought they had done a great job.


Method of Madness: Declaration of Independence

Posted in Charter Change by Erineus on June 14, 2009

By Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:16:00 06/14/2009

“WE ARE not pro-administration. WE are for anyone who is good for the country.”

So says Bessie Buencamino, of Mahal ko, Bayan ko.

(MKBK), an organization composed of “God-centered, enlightened, compassionate, nation-loving people” that “seeks to disseminate correct values.”

Their “anyone good for the country” appears to be solidly President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Buencamino is a classmate of President Arroyo, along with the group’s convenor, Doctor Evelyn Kilayko. These are the same women behind the 2005 advertisements splashed across national newspapers that announced “We prefer GMA to chaos” at the height of the Hello Garci scandal.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported that the ads accounted for 12 percent of all the political ads for this period, making the group the top advertiser with spending of over P3 million. Last year, Kilayko’s group placed full-page newspaper ads calling for “truth not rage” at the height of the $329.48-million ZTE broadband deal controversy.

In the last few weeks, the “Mahal Ko, Bayan Ko” movement placed ads in major Metro Manila newspapers calling for a shift in government, just as the House of Representatives decided to convene itself into a constituent assembly.

MKBK has a core group of 30 moral and upright citizens. They want Charter change, and they want it now. The presidential form of government, says Buencamino, inevitably “breeds megacorruption.” Asked by ANC anchor Tony Velasquez whether she was implying the current leaders within the presidential system were corrupt – or perhaps megacorrupt – Buencamino takes offense. “Do not put words in my mouth.”

It is a stunning sort of argument to change an entire system of government. If the presidential system is the culprit behind billions of pesos of corruption, it is a marvel why MKBK refuses to admit there is corruption in the government beyond Buencamino’s mysterious “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Perhaps the good people behind the proposal for Charter change do not understand precisely why they are being painted as rogues and thieves. House Speaker Prospero Nograles admitted that House Resolution 1109 is “generic” with “no specific proposal.” The rush to pass it becomes all the more suspicious, one year before changing an unpopular president. Speaker Nograles – who mistakenly claimed that the voting on the constituent assembly was transparent simply because it was televised – himself is a self-proclaimed advocate of federalism. MKBK believes that a parliamentary system is “the lasting solution to the perennial problem of monumental corruption spawned by the very system we seek to change.” Other proponents claim all they wish for is to create a test case for the Supreme Court to rule on whether the House of Representatives and Senate should vote as a whole or separately to amend the Constitution.

I have nothing against changing the Charter – when I know what is being changed, when I believe the changes are for the national good, when I trust the motives of the people behind these changes. What is offensive is the idea that proponents believe the public will go along with giving Congress a blank check. Quezon Representative Danilo Suarez, a member of Kampi, said that the resolution merely “tells the senators and congressman that let’s sit down and discuss what changes should be done in the Constitution, that’s it.” The rush and railroading in the House is not explained by a need to “sit down and discuss,” a need that can easily be fulfilled after 2010, with a new president holding a new mandate. It does not explain why the gentlemen of the House have to seek separate senatorial approval to change the name of a road in Caloocan, but believe a whole system of government can change while the Senate is forced to sit helplessly by.

HR 1109 was an insult to the national intelligence, and the patronizing advertisements and interviews tossed out by groups supporting this version of Charter change only cement their disdain for democratic institutions. This is a country whose leaders have failed not only the people but the system. HR 1109 is a manifestation of how even the fundamentals of the presidential system – the check and balance of the House and the Senate – can be ignored if the men in power are ruthless enough. The same ruthless leaders will run.

MKBK’s beloved parliament, the same corrupt jackasses will split the profits of a federal system if the Charter changes at the expense of damaged institutions. Yet another Villar will skip his own ethics hearing, yet another Revilla will rail against some vague notion of immorality, there will be water-tossing and pork-barrel snatching, and the grand carnival will go on, only it will have a different name.

There will be no attempt at term extensions, says the administration. I doubt if even its spokespeople believe themselves. If elections are allowed in 2010, and a new president decides that the presidential system has failed, if debates in Congress are allowed to flourish, if there is public discourse and faith in the leadership, then there is no reason why Charter change cannot happen. There is a time, a place, and a process, all of which the Constitution laid out in 1986.

Proponents say the time is now – “If not now, when?” – because this is the only administration that will permit immediate change in the Charter. Perhaps they should ask why.

2010 allows that flicker of possibility that there is one man – or woman – the nation can trust enough to support. I have little faith in leaders and heroes, but there is no other time than 2010 when that leader is needed, if only to force out the dirt of the last administration. This time, it must be the right choice. These next few months, as so many say, will be the tipping point, the moment that will decide whether the country Hillary Clinton so delightedly congratulated “as a beacon of democratic values to the world” will reach back for its independence or toss what’s left to a gang of thieves.