By Maila Ager
First Posted 14:26:00 06/16/2009
MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson has called for a “tax revolt” against efforts by allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to amend the Constitution.
Businessmen and citizens should not pay taxes until there are clear signs that Charter change proponents have abandoned and until Arroyo steps down from office in 2010, Lacson said.
“Aside from being a protest move, this would ensure that our taxes will be safe from the propensity of officials of this administration to perpetuate themselves to power by dipping their hands into government coffers,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
Lacson said the Arroyo administration used taxpayers’ money to cheat in the 2004 presidential elections and in the 2007 mid-term elections.
He said businessmen could opt to hold on to their corporate dues until after the deadline of filing of certificates of candidacy in November while income tax payers have until April next year to see if Charter change proponents would abandon this move.
It will also be known by November if Arroyo would run for Congress in her home province of Pampanga, he said.
“At that point, we can already see a brewing scheme not only to prolong her power stint but also to change our form of government,” Lacson said.
When a new and acceptable president is elected in 2010, taxpayers could show the new leader their goodwill by paying correct taxes.
In the United States, Lacson said taxpayers also went on a similar “revolt” to protest government spending on less essential programs earlier this year.
By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Maila Ager
First Posted 14:06:00 06/16/2009
MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Supreme Court’s dismissal of a petition against House Resolution 1109, which seeks to convene a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, could embolden its proponents to push through with their plan, militant lawmakers warned.
Without deciding on the legality of HR 1109, the high tribunal on Tuesday dismissed a petition filed by lawyer Oliver Lozano and his daughter, Evangeline, saying it was premature to question it.
“It doesn’t close the issue. Proponents of con ass [constituent assembly] will continue their initiative, the Lozano petition as no relevance on what they’re pushing for,” Bayan Muna partylist Representative Satur Ocampo said in a phone interview.
Representative Teodoro Casiño, also of Bayan Muna, said HR 110 proponents could put a spin on the decision to make it appear that the Supreme Court upheld the resolution, while in fact, the petition questioning it was dismissed on a technicality.
“They could say that since a petition against it was dismissed, it could mean that there’s no more hindrance to convening a constituent assembly,” Casiño said in a phone interview.
“Lozano’s petition was designed to fail so that its dismissal can be used to justify Lakas-Kampi’s next step which is the immediate convening of the House constituent assembly,” Casiño said in a separate text message.
Anakpawis party list Representative Rafael Mariano said the dismissal would “incite Ms Arroyo’s allies to force the situation and convene her self-serving constituent assembly.”
“After the SC’s favorable ruling, Ms Arroyo and her minions will be more aggressive and desperate to convene a fake constituent assembly and perpetuate themselves in power. The people should not let their guard down,” Mariano said.
Speaker Prospero Nograles, the main author of the resolution, said the dismissal was anticipated.
Echoing the view of Constitution expert, Father Joaquin Bernas, he said that HR 1109 did not by itself convene Congress into a constituent assembly.
“There will be justiciable issue only when con ass is actually convened and specific amendments (are proposed),” Nograles said.
Nueva Ecija Representative Rodolfo Antonino, another proponent of HR 1109, said that Lozano’s petition was premature since there was no actual convening of the assembly yet.
Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III, a member of the Liberal Party, welcomed the tribunal’s decision.
“This should also be a warning to Representative Antonino that his plan will not work. The dismissal of the case of Lozano will now force the proponents of HR 1109 to either convene con ass to create the judicial controversy or to just forget HR 1109 and have it archived. The LP hopes that the proponents choose the later,” he said in a text message.
Muntinlupa Representative Rufino Biazon said the decision was expected, saying that a “justiciable controversy will only happen if the House actually convenes itself into a con ass and the Senate disagrees.”
Gabriela partylist Representative Liza Maza said HR 1109 remained as mere “expression of the House” and that there was no controversy yet as long as there was no move to convene.
“Lozano should be told not to resort to legal adventurism on this very important issue,” Maza said.
Representative Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan partylist said the Supreme Court “avoided Malacañang and the House majority’s trap of ruling on the political question” by dismissing the “nuisance case.”
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Senators Manuel Roxas and Richard Gordon said the court’s ruling was expected because the constituent assembly has not been convened.
“Expected na namin yun kaya nga hindi nga kumikilos ang Senado [That’s expected. That’s why the Senate is not moving],” Enrile said.
Roxas said the Senate legal department was instructed to prepare in case the constituent assembly is convened, even as senators agreed in a caucus early this month not to act on HR 1109.
He said a mere announcement of the date for the convening of a constituent assembly could be enough grounds to question the matter before the court.
Some congressmen pushing for Charter change want to convene the assembly immediately after President Gloria Maapagal-Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.
Gordon warned pro-Charter change lawmakers that the Supreme Court would rule against a House-only constituent assembly.
“Sa ngayon, ang malinaw ang dapat gawin ng ng Kongreso kung gusto nilang mag con-as na sila-sila lang, pati yan ay ibabasura ng Korte Suprema sapagkat paulit-ulit naming sinasabi ang Congress ay two houses. Hindi kayang gawin ng lower house, yung pagbabago ng Saligang Batas [It’s clear, if the House wants a constituent assembly by itself, the Supreme Court will rule against it. We have said repeatedly that Congress has two chambers. The lower house alone can’t amend the Constitution],” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. welcomed the SC ruling as “good news.”
MANILA, Philippines – Short of telling Charter change (Cha-cha) critics not to attend today’s rally in Makati, Speaker Prospero Nograles yesterday warned protesters of the rising cases of Influenza A(H1N1) in the country.
“I hope that the organizers of this anti-Cha-cha rally will forewarn protesters against hugging and making close bodily contact at this Wednesday’s demonstration because of the clear and present threat of the A(H1N1) virus,” he said, jokingly.
The House leader said rallyists run the risk of contracting the flu virus.
Nograles said he is wondering “what the fuss is about on our House Bill 1109 when in fact, it was clearly printed that we are against any form of term extension, including that of President Arroyo.”
“Does it mean they’re protesting the resolution that doesn’t want to extend the President’s term? Do protesters want term extension? Because resolution is clear that we are against extension of terms. They should support our resolution instead of going against it,” he said.
Even the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) advised yesterday those joining protest rallies in Makati today to bring umbrellas as rains are likely to prevail over Metro Manila this afternoon.
Pagasa senior weather forecaster Robert Sawi said Metro Manila would experience mostly cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers, mostly in the afternoon or evening.
Western Luzon would have cloudy skies with scattered rainshowers and thunderstorms.
The rest of the country, on the other hand, would be partly cloudy with isolated rainshowers and thunderstorms.
“Good weather would prevail over Metro Manila aside from brief rainshowers especially in the afternoon or evening,” Sawi said.
Sawi said they were monitoring two low-pressure areas outside the Philippine area of responsibility yesterday afternoon.
However, he said the slight weather disturbances were still too far to directly affect the country.
Thousands of anti-Charter change protesters are expected to gather in Makati City today to denounce the passage of House Bill 1109 which will convene Congress into a constituent assembly to propose changes in the Constitution.
Critics of the government claim that the passing of the bill is part of a ploy to stop the forthcoming 2010 presidential elections, thereby extending the term of President Arroyo.
Malacañang officials have, however, repeatedly denied such plan. – With Helen Flores
By Leila Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:51:00 06/05/2009
MANILA, Philippines—There is no reason to take House Resolution No. 1109 to the Supreme Court because what the majority members in the House of Representatives essentially did on Tuesday night was to announce that they would commit a crime, constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas said Thursday.
“To my mind, the only thing they achieved was that they shot their foot. They did not do any damage yet,” Bernas said in a forum at Ateneo de Manila University.
“What they said was, ’Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to violate the Constitution.’ But they did not violate the Constitution. That is why, to my mind, there is nothing yet to bring to the Supreme Court,” he said.
And if the House tries to bypass the Senate and takes proposed constitutional amendments to the Commission on Elections for a plebiscite, it will be “a fatal mistake,” Bernas also said.
“The amendments can only take effect if approved by a plebiscite, which they have to present to the Senate,” he pointed out.
Commenting on the possible extension of the terms of elective officials, Bernas said the Supreme Court and the military would play a part in pushing it through.
“So how real is the threat of extension? It is real only if the Supreme Court will cooperate … and more so the military,” he said.
The alternative, he said, might be a people power revolt similar to what took place in 1986. He noted that after that revolt, the justices of the Supreme Court were replaced.
“Justices might think of that if ever they are tempted to cooperate in the gang rape of the Constitution,” Bernas said.
Ball in their court
Even House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said there was no reason to question HR 1109 before the Supreme Court because there was no controversy yet.
“Why should I walk into that kind of trap?” he said in a phone interview. “”The ball is clearly in [the House majority’s] court, not mine. I’m not going to make it easier for them by dancing to their tune.”
Zamora said he refused to believe that the proponents of HR 1109 only wanted to trigger a ruling from the Supreme Court on the proper way to conduct a constituent assembly (Con-ass).
“Of course not,” he said. “You can’t call a Con-ass just to drink coffee … Of course, you’re going to discuss amendments.”
He also said the difference in the opinions of the proponents of HR 1109 on what to do next meant that “they were not the masterminds” of the resolution.
The gold rush area that is Compostela Valley is a disaster waiting to happen. The steep mountainsides are honeycombed with tunnels dug by small-scale miners lured by that yellow mineral that many people are willing to die for. Well, they are dying for it. A landslide during heavy rains last Monday has killed 27 persons so far, and the digging and counting for more bodies have not yet stopped. That was the second fatal landslide in the area in two years.
Even without the tunnels, Compostela Valley is prone to landslides. The steep mountainsides surrounding it are devoid of trees whose roots should have held the soil together. Loggers raped the forests a long time ago. Miners made the soil even looser by digging tunnels into it to look for gold. Then they built their huts on the valley below, at the foot of the mountain. It was like committing suicide.
About 50 miners were taking shelter in these huts last Monday when a loud noise roared like thunder. Then they saw boulders and mud tumbling down the mountainside toward them. They all began to run but the wall of mud and boulders overtook them and buried them. Isn’t it ironic that the miners who took great pains to burrow into the soil looking for gold are now buried under that same soil, perhaps with gold nuggets buried with them?
This is not the first landslide that has killed scores of people in the Philippines. Nor would it be the last. As the typhoon season dumps more rains on the mountainsides, there would be more landslides, killing the people below.
As in Compostela Valley, authorities have identified areas in danger of landslides and have advised people in the path of these potential landslides to move to safer locations. But people are hardheaded, especially those in the gold rush area. Greed has closed their eyes and common sense to danger.
But death also lurks in places away from the gold rush area. Any area below mountains where loggers operated years ago is in danger. For the greedy loggers had stripped the mountains of the forests that held the soil together. We are now reaping the whirlwind that these people started.
Mark my words, there would be more floods and landslides during rainy seasons. With no trees to hold the rainwater soaking the ground, the water would rush down the mountainsides to flood the lowlands. The creeks and rivers would not be able to hold the abundant water. So they would overflow their banks and flood the surrounding countryside.
Worse, the rains would loosen the soil and without plant roots to hold them, the mud, together with boulders, would cascade down the mountainsides and bury the sleeping villages below. It had happened many times before; and it would happen again.
Have you noticed that there are more frequent floods and landslides now with the slightest rain? Those are the handiwork of the loggers, the charcoal-makers and the kaingineros (slash-and-burn farmers).
Local government officials should take great pains to move people living in danger areas to safer locations. If they don’t, there would be nobody left to vote for them in future elections.
* * *
The 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR), financed by the United Nations, put the blame on the spread of graft and corruption on the executive branch of the government. Congress has abdicated the power of the purse to the executive, the report said.
Wrong. The executive and the legislative branches are actually in cahoots to rob the people of their taxes.
The root cause of all the corruption is the pork barrel hidden in such innocent-sounding appropriations as Countrywide Development Fund and Priority Development Assistance Fund. What is developed is not actually the countryside but the private pockets of legislative and executive officials. Almost half of the appropriation of each and every project goes to corrupt officials. In the process, these officials contaminate private persons who do business with the government such as contractors. Contractors have to kick back about a third of the contract price to government officials or else the contract would be given to somebody else willing to give “commissions.” As a result, the work of the contractor becomes substandard as he has to get back somehow the money he kicked back to officials. There is almost no government project, big or small, that is not tainted with corruption.
Members of the House of Representatives use the sobriquet “power of the purse” in giving themselves the pork barrel allocations. So it has not abdicated this power to the executive. But it is true that Malacañang has an even bigger pork barrel hidden in “intelligence,” “confidential,” “representation” and other high-sounding names. The generic name for all of them is “stolen funds.” They were stolen from the taxpayers.
The executive branch allows Congress to steal the pork barrel funds because Congress also allows it to steal a bigger share. A case of you scratch my back, I scratch yours.
Also, the pork barrel allows Malacañang to control the congressmen and senators by the simple expedient of not releasing the pork of uncooperative legislators. Cooperate and you get your pork; play hard-to-get and you get nothing. That is the Malacañang practice.
Abolish the pork barrel system by obeying the Constitution (it is not in the Charter), and you cut corruption by about two-thirds. Malacañang and Congress will not do that, so it is left to the Supreme Court to overturn its earlier decision that the pork barrel is legal. How can it be legal when the Constitution says that the job of Congress is to enact laws and that of the executive is to implement them? But with the pork, legislators usurp the functions of executive officials such as the secretaries of public works, education, health, etc. Plain common sense.
Court voids 2-percent rule
MANILA, Philippines – Thirty-two partylist seats at the House of Representatives will be filled up after the Supreme Court voided the two-percent rule to determine whether a partylist should get a second or third seat in Congress.
In a 35-page decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, the high tribunal granted a petition filed by the Barangay (village) Association for National Advancement (Banat) and set aside a resolution by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Voting 8-7, the court also affirmed its decision barring major political parties from participating in partylist elections directly or indirectly.
With the ruling, the party list groups Bayan Muna and Buhay will get the maximum three seats each and two seats each for the Citizens Battle Against Corruption (Cibac), Gabriela, Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC), A-Teacher, Akbayan, Alagad, Coop-Natco, Butil, Batas, ARC, Anakpawis, Abono, Amin, Agap, and An Waray.
There are currently 23 partylist lawmakers. The law allows a maximum of 55.
“We declare unconstitutional the two percent threshold in the distribution of additional partylist seats. The allocation of additional seats under the PartyList System shall be in accordance with the procedure used in of this Decision. Major political parties are disallowed from participating in party-list elections,” the court said.
The court said that if the two-percent threshold were followed, it would present “an unwarranted obstacle to the full implementation of Section 5(2), Article 6 of the Constitution and prevents the attainment of the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives.”
Under law, a partylist group must have garnered two percent of the total votes cast for the party list election to get one seat.
According to the Comelec resolution, a partylist group must have garnered another two percent of the total votes cast, or a total of four percent, to qualify for a second seat, or a total of six percent to qualify for the maximum three seats.
But the Supreme Court said that according to the Party List Law, the second and third seat should be based on the total votes garnered by the particular party group, not the total votes cast for all partylist groups.
MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE) The Supreme Court decision to increase the House seats for partylist representatives to 55 could stir a “mini constitutional crisis” in the House of Representatives, a lawmaker said.
Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tanada III said that with the high tribunal’s order, the number of lawmakers would now total to 270, exceeding the limit allowed by law.
Speaker Prospero Nograles called for the immediate passage of the bill increasing congressional representatives to 300 as a way out of the possible quandary. He also said that the House would seek clarification clarification from the high tribunal on the ruling.
The Constitution fixes the composition of the House at not more than 250 members, “unless otherwise fixed by law.”
The Constitution also provides that 20 percent of the House members should be elected through a partylist system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations.
”It may have created a mini constitutional crisis in the House because the number of representatives from the House of Representatives has been fixed to be 250, now if we include the 32 party list representatives that the Supreme Court says are eligible to join the House, that would bring our number to 270,” Tanada said in an interview after the Ayes and Nays forum in Quezon City Wednesday.
”I’m not saying I’m against the inclusion of additional party list but we have to reconcile this with what is stated in the Constitution that members of the House of Representatives should not be more than 250 including partylist,” he added.
Tanada said a clarification should be sought on the tribunal’s ruling.
Nograles said the ruling was a “legal question,” even as he said that the additional partylist representatives had “breached” the allowed number of House seats.
He said the passage of the bill increasing the number of House seats might “cure any possible legal infirmity in the Constitution.”
Nograles said the House was “exploring the option of filing a petition with the Supreme Court for a declaratory relief on the issue of constitutionality as the bigger chamber of Congress is only limited to 250 members with 20 percent partylist members.”
He also said the House leadership was not in a hurry to administer the oath to the new representatives “until the constitutional issue is clarified.”
The committee on revision of laws on Wednesday approved the bills of Nograles and Iloilo Representative Raul Gonzalez Jr. to increase the number of House seats from 250 to 300.
”Meantime, it may be prudent to take things easy and wait a while for some clarification from the Supreme Court,” Nograles said.
He also said the House leadership was not in a hurry to administer the oath to the new representatives “until the constitutional issue is clarified.”
Bayan Muna partylist Representative Satur Ocampo said that while he welcomed the high tribunal’s ruling, he said the implication could be dangerous because this would mean that “special interest groups” could just organize a partylist group and join the elections if there were more slots to be filled up.
Ocampo said the Commission on Election should be “very strict” in ensuring that only marginalized groups are accredited into the partylist system.