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“Isn’t it pathetic that after I have withdrawn, most everybody can now say you’re the only one who has withdrawn, we will continue with the resolution that you have drafted anyway?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.
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.
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
Updated February 25, 2009 12:00 AM
While governments around the world are tightening their belts in this year of recession, the Philippines’ House of Representatives looks bent on increasing public expenditures for the chamber. Members of the House of Representatives want 50 seats added to the chamber. The explanation: a booming population needs a corresponding boom in congressional representation.
So far the Senate does not seem to be keen on adopting the same reasoning to boost its smaller membership. Between the two chambers, it is the House, which has the power of the purse, that should have greater awareness of the need for belt-tightening as the global economy slumps. Perhaps the House is bent on proving to the world what President Arroyo has been crowing about to anyone who cares to listen: due to her competent fiscal management, the Philippine economy is doing relatively well amid the global slowdown.
The House currently has 238 seats: 216 for congressional districts and the remaining 22 for party-list representation. The party-list system is supposed to give marginalized sectors a voice in Congress. But the system has been used by political parties to increase their seats and their voting power in the House, making taxpayers wonder if their money is simply being wasted on some of the party-list lawmakers.
As for the regular members of the chamber, their preoccupation with their pork barrel and the ongoing scandal over fat commissions from infrastructure projects are enough to make taxpayers think twice about the need for 50 more pork-hungry representatives. There isn’t even enough money for the full automation of the 2010 elections or for the much-touted pump-priming program.
The House also faces questions about the constitutionality of adding more seats. The Constitution limits the number of House seats to 250. Can the House use a mere resolution to go around a constitutional provision? Congressmen can include this among the provisions that they intend to amend in case they succeed in convening the chamber into a constituent assembly to revise the Charter. Until that constitutional provision is amended, congressmen should attend instead to more urgent matters that require their attention. Taxpayers don’t need an additional burden.