Wake Up, Philippines!

Bid for Con-ass plenary vote fails

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, House Representatives by Erineus on May 20, 2009

By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:37:00 05/20/2009

MANILA, Philippines—Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte was left red in the face Tuesday after his peers in the majority ignored his plea to junk his proposal to amend the Constitution and instead made a spirited drive to bring it to a plenary debate.

But the advance of House Resolution No. 1109 penned by Villafuerte was delayed for another week after the majority failed to muster enough votes at the committee on constitutional amendments to carry to the floor the measure seeking to convene a constituent assembly (Con-ass).

“Isn’t it pathetic that after I have withdrawn, most everybody can now say you’re the only one who has withdrawn, we will continue with the resolution that you have drafted anyway? Isn’t that pathetic?” he said.

Villafuerte urged the majority to follow his lead in abandoning HR 1109 and all efforts to change the Constitution, including House Resolution No. 737 that Speaker Prospero Nograles is pushing to amend the Charter purportedly to get rid of restrictions on foreign investments.

Villafuerte declared that Charter change (Cha-cha) was dead after he announced his withdrawal of HR 1109 on Friday, charging angrily that Nograles had delayed action on it and ignored his request that it be acted on ahead of HR 737.

But Villafuerte’s colleagues at the committee on constitutional amendments proceeded to vote 12-4 (with one abstention) in rejecting a motion by Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros Baraquel to archive HR 1109 after the principal drafter had abandoned it.

Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo and Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino both disputed Villafuerte’s claim that he was a mere author of HR 1109, pointing out that he actively solicited their signatures endorsing HR 1109 during a party hosted by Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.

Enough time

Contrary to Villafuerte’s claim, Romualdo and Antonino insisted that there was enough time to lay the groundwork for Charter change.

“Let us not be misled,” Antonino said. “He personally came to me to get my signature and he even claimed this will be easy.”

Even Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez did not look too kindly at Villafuerte’s presumption that Charter change would be dead with his withdrawal from the initiative.

Golez said Villafuerte was just one of the 173 signatories to HR 1109.

“It is not up to the committee to fathom the genesis of HR 1109. This is not relevant,” Golez said.

After frustrating Villafuerte’s bid to shoot down HR 1109, Antonino immediately made a motion for the committee to endorse the resolution for plenary debate. This would allow the congressmen to decide the Charter change mode.

HR 1109, based on a vague provision in the Constitution, seeks to turn Congress into an assembly to introduce changes in the Charter by a joint vote of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

With its dominant numbers, allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo can easily override the Senate, which is opposing the measure and is threatening to challenge its constitutionality in the Supreme Court.

‘Fourth mode’

Nograles’ HR 737—described as the “fourth mode” of revising the Constitution—calls for amendments by a three-fourths vote in each of the two chambers, instead of a simple majority as required in passing bills.

Villafuerte claims HR 737 is patently illegal, pointing out that the modes of introducing changes in the Constitution only calls for either a constitutional convention, turning Congress into a constituent assembly, or through a “people’s initiative.”

Bayan Muna party-list Rep Teodoro Casiño accused the majority of trying to railroad HR 1109 even though it had yet to get a sponsor in the committee or be tackled in a public hearing.

But the committee’s chair, La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, explained that his panel’s role was just to recommend the Cha-cha modes. “I want to reach Charter change by whatever road it takes,” he said.

When Ortega insisted in acting on Antonino’s motion to vote on whether to endorse HR 1109 without further debates, many of the minority members decided to walk out, along with Villafuerte.

Cat’s out of the bag

However, most of the majority lawmakers were absent during the voting and could only muster five votes and failed to get the measure to the plenary.

Quezon Rep. Lorenzo “Erin” Tañada III said it was a small victory that delayed the endorsement of HR 1109.

“I believe they will make a more determined effort next week to vote for the approval of HR 1109,” he said.

He said the mixed voting showed that some of majority members still listen to reason in rejecting Con-ass.

But Tañada warned that the majority was clearly pushing for Con-ass as the preferred mode for Charter change after Antonino declared that he would move to defer action on HR 737 on the floor once HR 1109 was taken up in the plenary.

“The cat’s out of the bag, they want HR 1109 over HR 737, and that is more dangerous because anything can happen in a Con-ass, including extension of the President’s term,” he said. Ms Arroyo’s term expires next year.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri Tuesday urged Nograles, the Lakas president, and Villafuerte, the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) head, to stop squabbling, saying the two political parties were heading for a historic merger on May 28.

“It’s counterproductive,” he said, urging the two to join their members “in uniting for the good of the country.” He said the Lakas-Kampi merger was “beyond these two personalities.” With a report from Christine O. Avendaño


Constituent Assembly resolution filed

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Constitution by Erineus on April 22, 2009

By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:54:00 04/23/2009

MANILA, Philippines—A controversial resolution was filed Wednesday in the House of Representatives calling for a Constituent Assembly (Con-ass) to amend the Constitution even without the Senate’s participation.

Critics said the measure sponsored by Speaker Prospero Nograles was a ploy to draw the opposition into challenging its constitutionality in the Supreme Court, dominated by administration-appointed justices, and urged lawmakers not to take the bait.

The resolution seeks to gather 197 signatures, the magic number its principal author, Rep. Luis Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, contends is needed to pass Charter revisions by members of the Senate and the House of Representatives voting jointly.

Majority of the senators believe that Charter revisions in the Con-ass mode require approval by three fourths of members of the two chambers voting separately. They contend that the Villafuerte resolution is unconstitutional and have announced they would challenge it in the Supreme Court.

“There is no road map to this but we have to be careful because maybe this is being done on purpose,” said Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tañada III of the Liberal Party.

“Those who are advocating this mode is hoping that those against it would (go to court) immediately. We are all wary of this, of playing into their hands,” said Tañada.

Tañada said that most of the justices were appointed by the President, which could explain why her allies were challenging those opposing Charter change (Cha-cha) to go to court.

“I’m not saying the Supreme Court will decide in favor of them. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. But why are they challenging us? Maybe they know something we don’t know, we have to read between the lines,” said Tañada.

‘Fourth mode’

On Monday, Nograles introduced House Resolution No. 737—described as a “fourth mode” of Cha-cha calling for amendments to economic provisions in the Constitution by employing procedures in approving bills, but not by simple majority vote in each chamber but by three fourths.

The Constitution can only be changed through a people’s initiative, a constitutional convention and a constituent assembly.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said that Ms Arroyo’s allies have been moving to break every rule in the House to provoke the opposition into raising the issue in the high tribunal.

The Villafuerte resolution specifies that there would be elections in 2010 and the term of the president, vice president, senators, representatives and governors would not be extended.

With the filing, Villafuerte said Nograles should first set aside resolution 737 so that the House could debate first on the mode of changing the Charter.

Nograles’ 737 resolution has been scheduled for plenary debates. Villafuerte drafted the Con-ass resolution (No. 1109), but said its main author is Nograles.

Likely court challenge

Villafuerte said Nograles’ 737 resolution was “seriously objectionable.”

“Since Speaker Nograles himself is the author also of the resolution that I drafted, I think the proper procedure would be to suspend consideration of his 737 resolution on economic provision,” Villafuerte told reporters.

However, his proposal to defer discussions on resolution 737 was rejected Wednesday night.

Villafuerte said he expected that resolution 1109 would trigger a “justiciable” controversy to trigger a Supreme Court case to decide if the two Houses should vote separately or jointly.

The Con-ass resolution was signed by 174 lawmakers. It states that the mode for Charter change should first be established before any specific proposal to amend it could be made.

‘Foolish attempts’

Villafuerte also said in an interview that he only wants a Supreme Court case to be filed.

“Even if we get a favorable ruling, after the convening is considered constitutional, it is too late to remand or bring back the issue to Congress for the acceptance of specific amendments. At that time, that’s already the campaign period. Moreover, we still have to go through a plebiscite,” he said.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, president of the United Opposition, Wednesday said administration allies must concede defeat in their move to revise the Constitution after the Supreme Court ruled to increase the number of party-list seats in Congress.

“With one decision on a case filed a few years back, the Supreme Court has ended all these foolish attempts by Ms Arroyo’s allies to extend her term through Cha-cha,” Binay said. With reports from Allison W. Lopez and Rachel Miranda


Dangerous experiments

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Constitution by Erineus on April 22, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:22:00 04/22/2009

The so-called “fourth mode” for amending the Constitution is nothing more and nothing less than a trial balloon. It is one of many; and if today a “fourth” has been proposed, we can expect a fifth, a sixth—as many as it takes. All these so-called modes should all be understood as attempts to achieve—by hook or by crook and late in the game—the ultimate ambition of the administration coalition: to deprive the public of its historic right and exclusive privilege of selecting the head of state and government of our country.

The present Constitution, unlike the 1973 and 1935 Charters that were more detailed, practically states that there are two ways to propose amendments to the Constitution (because people’s initiative is basically a dead letter). The first is by means of a constituent assembly; the second is through a Constitutional Convention. In truth, the distinction is rather artificial, for it all depends on Congress to decide whether it will itself propose the amendments to the public, or pass the task to a convention—which includes the possibility (actually proposed in the 1960s and more recently by the President’s election lawyer, Romulo Macalintal) of an appointed, not elected, Constitutional Convention.

Part of the confusion stems from a residual historical memory of the Congress under the 1935 Constitution, whose provisions on amendments required the legislature to formally convene, in joint session, for the purpose of considering amendments. The present Charter makes no such explicit requirement; indeed, considering how verbose our Constitution is, its provisions are remarkably terse: any amendment to, or revision of, the Constitution, it says, can be proposed by Congress “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.” Fr. Joaquin Bernas, SJ has written in this paper how the wording of the Charter was an oversight, dating back to when the Constitutional Commission thought it was going to approve a unicameral National Assembly.

But as it turned out, the commission approved a bicameral Congress, and Bernas and many others have pointed out that in terms of proposing amendments, Congress must conform to the nature of the beast—in this case, composed of two, co-equal chambers, neither of which can fulfill the functions of Congress without the other. The political problem this raises is that, for whatever reason, the House of Representatives considers the Senate unfriendly to proposals that would abolish either the presidency as a nationally-elected chief executive who is head of government, or the Senate, or both.

The 2007 elections also left the administration with absolute dominance in the House but very mixed results in the Senate; and with senators responsible to a national constituency, it is difficult for senators to abandon their traditional role as fiscalizers of the administration of the day. So the administration has been scratching its head, trying to figure out a way that will neutralize the institutional veto power of the Senate, especially in the case of amendments.

Not to mention what was, until recently, a Supreme Court with a marked disinclination to tolerate any constitutional foolishness—for it would be to the high court that the Senate would run should the House try to railroad it out of existence.

Time, however, not only heals all wounds but can sort out even the thorniest of political problems. The composition of the Supreme Court has changed drastically from its recent heyday as the bulwark against any constitutional tinkering by the administration. The opposition in the House has been starved and its membership reduced; the Senate is bogged down in presidential campaign intramurals, and will be hard pressed to put up a united front.

Notice that administration loyalists have tried to plead for a debate to take place, as if what’s going on is some sort of harmless academic discussion. It is not; what is at stake is a go-for-broke effort that involves a dangerous experiment with the law and institutions. The underlying assumption is as bold as it is cynical: that the public no longer cares enough to seriously resist an administration riding roughshod over the separation of powers. For to continue the debate now is to provide the pretext for a plebiscite in which political machines, and not public opinion, will dictate the future government of this country.


Is Cha-cha dead?

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Legislation, Politics by Erineus on April 19, 2009

By Artemio V. Panganiban
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:17:00 04/18/2009

THE HEAT is on Speaker Prospero Nograles. And he is sweating because he could not produce 196 signatures to support the resolution authored principally by Representative Luis Villafuerte calling for Charter change (Cha-cha) via a constituent assembly (con-ass). Implicit is the unspoken undertone that the con-ass would eventually install the parliamentary system.

June 6 extension. Before the onset of the Holy Week, Nograles promised to file the resolution formally in the House of Representatives so that it could be publicly scrutinized. However, not having succeeded in getting the 196 signatures, all that he could do – after Congress resumed its sessions early this week – was to award himself an extension of up to June 6, the end of the congressional session, within which to move the process and get the required support.

The proponents believe – wrongly, in my humble view – that the signatures of 196 congressmen, even without the participation of a single senator, are enough to comply with the constitutional requirement of three-fourths vote “of all the members of Congress” to pass constitutional amendments.

(Parenthetically, I wonder why Nograles fixed the number at “197.” Currently, there are 238 congressmen and 23 senators or a total of 261 “members of Congress.” Three-fourths of 261 is 195.75. This can be rounded off to 196.)

A congressman present during the House leadership caucus last April 14 told me that the resolution has only 178 signatures; thus, it needs at least 18 more. Despite their best efforts during the last six months, the proponents still failed to get 196 signatures. Why?

Let us analyze. Of the 238 incumbent congressmen, 89 belong to the Lakas Party, 52 to Kampi, 30 to the Nationalist People’s Coalition, 20 to the Liberal Party, 10 to the Nacionalista Party and the rest are distributed among the LDP, PMP, PDSP, PDP-Laban and Uno. Also included were 22 partylist representatives and two independents. Except for the partylists, party affiliations were volatile and change every day.

Disparate ruling coalition. Since most of the parties belong to the ruling coalition, one will expect all their members to support the resolution hatched by their leaders. But no such solidarity exists. For instance, Representatives Jose de Venecia and Edcel Lagman, both of Lakas, have made it plain that they would oppose Charter change not only in the House but also in the Supreme Court. The same is true of NPC’s Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Abraham Mitra.

Consider too that many congressmen are already committed to their favorite presidential candidates; the NPCs to Chiz Escudero or Loren Legarda; the LPs to Mar Roxas and the NPs to Manny Villar. They do not want Cha-cha now because it will derail the May 10, 2010 presidential elections.

Also, Representative Jack Duavit, the suave NPC secretary general, told me during a dinner two weeks ago that his party’s preferred Cha-cha mode was the constitutional convention, not the con-ass.

He stressed that while many NPC members including him have signed the resolution as a courtesy to Nograles, they reserved their right to contest specific amendments that might be proposed once the con-ass would be convened.

Duavit added that the NPC would oppose a “House-only” con-ass. “We cannot ignore our colleagues in the Senate. The three-fourths majority required by the Constitution should be obtained in both the House and the Senate, voting separately.”

Ditto for the Liberals and the Nacionalistas. For its part, the Palace confessed its alleged “helplessness.” Instead of supporting Cha-cha, it is supposedly focused only on the 2010 elections. Based on these disparities and pronouncements, the con-ass is hopeless.

By this time, the proponents know that the Cha-cha is dead. Only the Palace can resurrect it with patronage, arm-twisting and other unconventional methods of persuasion. And even if the 196 signatures are obtained, not all signatories as above explained would ignore the Senate. That is why I think there is only one way for Cha-cha to succeed – by railroading it with Malacañang’s grease.

Cha-cha railroad. How? Once the 196 signatures are obtained, the proponents will immediately forward the resolution to and compel the Commission on Elections to set the plebiscite pronto. The railroad option explains why the goal is 196 signatures. If the only aim is to discuss Charter change and not to install the parliamentary system, why wait for the 196? After all, only a simple majority is needed to convene a con-ass but 196 are necessary to approve the parliamentary target.

This is exactly how the House impeached President Joseph Estrada. After the constitutionally required signatures were obtained, then Speaker Manuel Villar speedily forwarded the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate without any discussion and formal voting.

Once this happens, the senators and the militants will immediately run to the Supreme Court. This will put the Court to a litmus test. Will it stamp its imprimatur to such a mockery of our Constitution?

It will also trigger massive protests. Considering the latest First Quarter 2009 SWS survey showing that 66 percent of Pinoys oppose Charter change, expect piercing rallies and demos that will dwarf the Bangkok “red shirts.”

In sum, Cha-cha is dead but it can resurrect if the Palace actively intervenes and greases the railroad. Surely such ploy will enrage the people. By greasing the hated Cha-cha express, the Palace will ram the economy and risk people power, mutinies and armed rebellions.

* * *

Comments are welcome are chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com


Charter change only 20 votes shy

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Constitution, Legislation by Erineus on March 25, 2009

Villar: Arroyo’s sons behind Con-ass mode

By Michael Lim Ubac, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:47:00 03/25/2009

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.”

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.

Best legacy

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.”

Another route

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.


Two faces of Cha-cha

Posted in Charter Change, Congress, Legislation by Erineus on February 21, 2009

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As in the past, Malacañang tried to distance itself yesterday from continuing efforts to revise the 1987 Charter through a constituent assembly. So why is KAMPI, the party of President Arroyo, the main proponent of the move? If the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino is doing this without the imprimatur of the President, or if the party is truly ignoring her purported calls to stop the effort, it’s another mark of bad leadership.

KAMPI has made noises about kicking out Prospero Nograles as speaker of the House of Representatives if he refuses to go along with Charter change through a constituent assembly, under which pro-administration congressmen intend to bypass the Senate if necessary. That must be why Nograles, despite a resolution he filed to amend a few economic provisions in the Constitution through the regular legislative mill, is himself gathering signatures for Cha-cha the KAMPI way. As of last count, according to reports, 165 signatures had been gathered — just 32 shy of the requirement to forge ahead with Cha-cha through a constituent assembly.

Proponents of this plan want not just an amendment but a revision of the Constitution, which would allow for a shift to a parliamentary form of government. The proponents have not ruled out the possibility that the plan could lead to the lifting of term limits and the extension of the terms of incumbent officials including President Arroyo.

The Commission on Elections has said there is no longer time for Cha-cha and the ratification of a new Charter before the general elections in May next year. Senators prefer Cha-cha through a constitutional convention, with the delegates to be elected alongside other officials in May 2010 at the earliest. Yesterday both Nograles and Malacañang vowed that the general elections would push through as scheduled. But there is no such reassurance from KAMPI, which is spearheading the Cha-cha effort.

The game plan, it seems, is for one face of the same creature to deny to the last breath that Cha-cha is still alive, while the other face actively works for its attainment. And if Cha-cha manages to squeak through, the two faces will become one in ecstatic celebration.

Updated February 21, 2009 12:00 AM