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.
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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.
MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) is drafting an executive order to be signed by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo this week that will compel the public to segregate their garbage, according to the agency’s press statement.
The executive order “will hasten the implementation” of Republic Act (RA) 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, said the DENR statement released over the weekend.
“To support and strengthen RA 9003, the DENR is preparing an EO directing households to segregate their garbage and local government units (LGUs) to implement separate garbage collections for biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes,” DENR Secretary Lito Atienza said.
The law stipulates garbage segregation but it is hardly followed.
“Filipinos must be reminded of their responsibilities on waste disposal and the system of separate collection will definitely reduce the volume of garbage that accumulate daily,” Atienza said.
“We must continuously guide everybody on the proper disposal of garbage as we strictly monitor and enforce compliance to RA 9003, especially now that the effects of global warming and climate change are being experienced all over the world,” Atienza said.
MANILA, Philippines — A nongovernmental organization (NGO) urged lawmakers to amend the Anti-Trafficking Act of 2003, in particular the confidentiality clause it deemed partial to offenders.
Susan Ople, president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, said the law currently protects the right to privacy of both the victim and the accused, allowing traffickers to continue their illegal activities.
“We believe in the need to protect the identities of the victims but not the accused especially if they have outstanding warrants of arrest,” Ople said.
Section 6 of Republic Act 9208 states that “at any stage of the investigation, prosecution and trial of an offense under this act, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, court personnel and medical practitioners, as well as parties to the case, shall recognize the right to privacy of the trafficked person and the accused.”
“The only thing we [NGOs] can hold on to is our advocacy, so how can we prevent trafficking if none of us can tell anyone who preys on the victims,” said Ople, pointing out that trafficking is a transnational crime that involves syndicates with power and resources.
She said her organization has asked the Senate labor committee, headed by Senator Jose Estrada, to amend the law.
Ople said Estrada has asked her group to draft the appropriate amendments.
“We see that there is a loophole in this law, and that’s what we’re trying to work out,” said Ople, daughter of the late Senator Blas Ople.
A measure that has been passed by Congress and is now awaiting the President’s signature may yet be one of the answers to the current economic crisis and at the same time may provide a long-term solution to the problem of poverty. The measure, the Tourism Act of 2009, creates the Tourism Development Estate Zone Authority and the Tourism Promotion Board.
Alejandra Clemente, president of the Federation of Tourism Industries of the Philippines (FTIP), said the tourism economic zones to be developed by the Authority would create millions of jobs and generate $10 billion in foreign exchange. She said that tourism could be an important engine of socioeconomic and cultural growth and generate investments, earn foreign exchange and create jobs.
Many countries today are visited by millions of tourists every year and earn billions of dollars in foreign exchange. According to the World Tourism Organization, in 2007 the top five most visited countries were France, 81.9 million tourist arrivals, $54.2 billion in tourism receipts; Spain, 59.2 million, $57.8 billion; United States, 56 million, $96.7 billion; China, 54.7 million, $41.9 billion; and Italy, 43.7 million, $42.7 billion.
The Philippines was visited by only 3.4 million tourists in 2007, compared with the 17 million of Malaysia, 14 million of Thailand and 14 million of the small country of Singapore. Clemente said that even Vietnam, which is still recovering from the devastation of a long war, was slowly overtaking the Philippines.
The Philippines could study the experience of Spain which was an underdeveloped country until the 1960s. It developed its tourism industry and is now one of the top five most visited countries and the second biggest earner from tourism in the world. Spain is not resting on its laurels and is continuing to develop business models that are environmentally, socially and culturally sustainable.
What does Spain have or, for that matter, what do Malaysia and Thailand have that the Philippines does not have? The Philippines has many tourist attractions like Boracay, one of the best beaches in the world; Palawan, “the last frontier,” which has exotic wildlife, white sand beaches and natural wonders like an underground river; Bohol, which has the world-famous Chocolate Hills and superb diving spots like Panglao and Balicasag; the Banaue rice terraces, called the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World; and Tubbataha Reefs, an excellent diving spot. The Philippines has a gentle, hospitable people, most of whom speak English. A melting pot of Malay, Chinese, Arabic, Indian, Spanish and American culture, the Philippines is a culturally active nation inhabited by musically and artistically gifted people.
What the Philippines lacks is a comprehensive, systematic tourism plan. A lot of infrastructure has to be constructed to bring many destinations up to world standards. Many hotels still have to be built to accommodate the growing number of tourists. And the government has to improve peace and order conditions; it has to crack down on kidnappers, robbers and con artists.
The development of the tourist industry would have a multiplier effect on the economy. The tourism master plan would create 30 million jobs over a 10-year period and earn about $10 billion in foreign exchange. When the number of tourist arrivals increases, there will be greater demand for food and services. A burgeoning tourist industry would benefit agriculture and the information technology industries. More factories would be needed to manufacture supplies for hotels and resorts.
A growing tourist industry could absorb the tens of thousands of overseas Filipino workers who have lost their jobs and are returning to the country. These workers only need to be retrained so that they can enter the tourism industry. An added advantage is that they would not have to leave the country again, and the social problems created by absentee parents would be partially relieved.
Government officials are pushing stimulus plans to revive an economy that is being affected by the global economic meltdown. The tourism program envisioned under the Tourism Act of 2009 is one concrete, doable stimulus plan. If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants a ready answer to the current economic crisis as well as a long-term plan to solve the problem of poverty, she can find it in the measure that is just waiting for her signature.
THE activation of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) can give the country cheap and consistent power in the years to come, according to a geologist at the University of the Philippines.
Dr. Carlos Arcilla, director of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences (UP-NIGS), said the BNPP was just standing idly and should be used to mitigate the effects of a looming power shortage and to bring the price of electricity down, which is one of the highest in Asia.
“Let’s think of what we can do with the power that can be produced by the BNPP. I hate expensive electricity and I’d like to see cheap electricity in households where the members won’t have to worry about their electrical bills,” he said.
In arguing for the activation of the plant, Arcilla revisited the objections to the BNPP, mostly dealing with safety.
Arcilla said he conducted last month a study of the ground below the plant and found no active fault.
He said the BNPP was built on the “flanks” of Mt. Natib. Even assuming that Mt. Natib erupts, the country already has the instrumentation to predict an impending eruption and give enough time to shut down the plant.
“Is it (Mt. Natib) active? Potentially, yes. But within the 60 years during which the plant will operate, the risk of an eruption is very small. Even Phivolcs is not monitoring Mt. Natib,” Arcilla said.
On the design of the BNPP, Arcilla noted that there were “carbon copies” of the plant operating in Korea and Taiwan since the 1980s without any accident. He also said that nuclear plants were built to withstand earthquakes and that the BNPP was unscathed after the 1990 temblor.
He said the mothballing of the plant came as a reaction to the meltdown of the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. But Arcilla said US-designed power plants were far safer than their Russian counterparts.
He pointed to the Three Mile Island meltdown, where no one died, as proof that safety systems in a plant were effective in controlling a meltdown. “Among all power sources, nuclear power has the lowest rate of accidents,” he said.
On a disposal site for nuclear waste, Arcilla pointed to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, New Mexico as a model for disposal of nuclear waste.
Arcilla issued a challenge. “Give me one island out of our 7,000 and I can find ways to store nuclear waste safely in the Philippines. Storing nuclear waste can be safe because there will be levels of barrier protection systems.”
Besides, Arcilla said the technology to safely store nuclear waste had not been fully explored. “It’s because of the social acceptability. We have this attitude of ‘not in my backyard.’ But if you take that out, then definitely we can come up with better ways of storing waste. The technology is already there,” he said.
On the cost, Arcilla said the BNPP could pay itself off in seven years.
“Even if the BNPP were to produce only 620 megawatts of the perceived 3,000 MW shortage in the next few years, it’s still 620 MW. Expensive electricity leads to more poverty,” he said.
Arcilla said he had an “open mind” and was also advocating the use of other power sources, like geothermal, solar, and wind. But he said building geothermal plants was expensive and power from solar and wind sources was not consistent enough for the country’s needs.
“If there is proof that the site is not geologically safe or that the plant already has defects, I’ll be the first to say ‘Let’s forget all about it.’ I won’t accept a nuclear plant that is not vetted for safety,” the geologist said.
WHEN a senator or representative delivers a libelous accusation against another person, he incurs no liability because of his parliamentary immunity for any speech or debate within the halls of Congress. The usual recourse of the supposed victim is to challenge his detractor to repeat his charges outside the legislature so they can be litigated before a court of justice.
If the solon does not respond, the public will conclude that his charges are true except that he does not have the evidence to prove them. That is in fact the reason for his parliamentary immunity. But if he decides to accept his target’s demand, he then allows himself, at his own risk, to be subject to judicial action. If he is unable to prove his accusations, he will then be liable for civil damages or imprisonment and/or fine; otherwise, he will have established the truth of his remarks.
Sen. Claro M. Recto successfully employed this device to remove a high government official during the administration of President Elpidio Quirino. Not that it would have done him any good, but that person did not have the facility offered by the right to reply bill recently passed by the Senate. President Macapagal-Arroyo has already threatened to veto it although it has not yet even been approved by Congress.
Under this bill, any person attacked by the media, through the press, television or radio, is given the right to reply, in the same medium and with equal prominence, to deny or explain his side. The purpose is to enable him to refute the effects of the accusation upon his name, good or bad. The trouble is that this opportunity would normally be barred at the present time, given the power of the press over easily cowed judges and the expenses and other inconveniences of litigation.
The result, it is argued, would leave the accusation unpunished and the reputation of the innocent subject tarnished for lack of denial or explanation. In many cases, the barrel of the gun is the final answer against the accusing journalist, who is presumed by the bill as biased and with an evil motive when in fact his only purpose was to expose the wrong and reveal the truth.
In my view, the presumption of the bill is that all adverse criticism of any person, especially public officials who are often the object of journalistic attacks, is per se untrue and motivated by evil designs. This is unfair. It debases freedom of expression itself that Justice Sutherland described as “one of the great interpreters between the government and the people. To allow it to be fettered is to fetter ourselves.”
The bill dishonors the great writers who came to be known during the French Revolution as the Fourth Estate for their powerful influence in opposing the decadent aristocracy. It is an insult to our own freedom of expression that sustained our struggles to be free with the fiery words of Rizal, Plaridel, Lopez Jaena, Jacinto, Mabini and other heroes of our race. They did not need a right to reply bill to moderate their courage against the foreign invaders.
It is true that there are so-called journalists in this noble profession who would pollute it with their tabloid career of blackmail and extortion. But they constitute only a small percentage of its worthy membership. The great majority of its practitioners are dedicated to the pursuit of truth as their only goal even at the risk of their safety and the cost of their lives. Their accusations serve as a useful warning to the public against the persons they criticize and their suspiciously illicit operations.
The press should be given its full measure of encouragement and freedom in the dissemination of “matters that touch the heart of the existing order.” If vital news is suppressed to accommodate a senseless defense from the offended party, this will intrude not only upon the media’s editorial policies but also on their property rights to the space they have to reserve for the required statutory reply. This may placate the private person’s ego but not the general public that paid for but will not receive the needed but excluded information.
There should always be a proper balance between private rights and the public interest. It is true that under the Bill of Rights, the lone individual should be regarded as a majority of one against the entire, united nation. But in the case before us, it is hard to sustain this questionable right against freedom of expression—“at once the instrument and the guaranty and the bright consummate flower of all liberty”—as a correct exercise of the police power of the State.
Fortunately, the proposal is still only a bill and has yet to be debated in the House of Representatives where it is likely to be scrutinized and rejected if only because it is the approved act of its traditional rival and frequent antagonist. Even if the measure should also pass there, there is still the final deliberation of the conference committee on the still unresolved differences between the two chambers that may yet kill the controversial measure.
And, yes, even if the bill should reach Malacañang, remember that President Arroyo has already announced she would veto it. The only hitch is that she also promised in 2003 that she would not run in the 2004 presidential election but did.