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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