Wake Up, Philippines!

Rallyists warned: Beware of swine flu

Posted in Charter Change, house of representatives, News Feature by Erineus on June 11, 2009

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


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


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