|After Con-ass, a Cha-cha free-for-all|
|Written by Alexander Martin Remollino|
|Tuesday, 02 June 2009 19:00|
Last night’s railroading of House Resolution No. 1109, which allows Congress to convene into a constituent assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution, has made possible a free-for-all for all sorts of changes to the country’s fundamental law.
HR 1109 seeks to convene House of Representatives “for the purpose of proposing amendments to, or revision of the Constitution upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members and that upon its being convened shall adopt its rules of procedures that shall govern its proceeding.”
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It does not specify what amendments are to be introduced.
Many fear that the passage of HR 1109 was just the first step to amend the Constitution to give President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo the opportunity to reign longer.
The railroading was met with indignation by Filipinos, many of whom took to the streets on Wednesday despite the rain to denounce the legislators who approved HR 1109. Several groups critical of the Arroyo regime also met yesterday to plan their moves in the days ahead. A number of protest rallies have been scheduled beginning Thursday.
“The problem with HR 1109 is that because it says nothing, it says everything,” said Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares in an interview with Bulatlat.
“Speaker Prospero Nograles’s HR 737 at least specifies that its proposed amendments are limited to the economic provisions,” Colmenares pointed out. “With HR 1109, you can’t tell what the intention really is.”
Aside from the easing of restrictions on foreign investments, allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have also been pushing for either an extension of her term or a shift in the form of government, from presidential to parliamentary.
Several opposition legislators have alleged that the vote on Wednesday was made on orders of Malacañang and that, allegedly, money exchanged hands between the administration and its congressional allies.
In a hearing of the House committee on constitutional amendments last May 12, La Union Rep. Victor Ortega said that once the shift from presidential to parliamentary government is effected under an amended Constitution, nothing can prevent anyone from running for prime minister. “Should we become parliamentary, President Gloria can run in her district, (former) president (Joseph Estrada) can run in San Juan, (former) president Cory (Aquino) in Tarlac and former president (Fidel) Ramos in Pangasinan.”
There have been several campaigns lately advocating for a shift to a parliamentary form of government. Last May 27, a pro-Arroyo group calling itself Mahal Ko Bayan Ko placed paid advertisements in two major dailies calling for a shift to a parliamentary system.
“We firmly believe the time to shift to parliamentary form of government is now,” the group said in its advertisements. “The present Administration’s term is coming to an end. If we do not change to parliamentary form of government now, it will never be done and we will remain doomed with the presidential form and all its flaws forever.”
Arroyo’s term expires next year. Under the present Constitution, the president is not allowed to run for reelection.
Taken in the context to perpetuate Arroyo in power, Colmenares said the events last night take on a sinister form. There is nothing to stop the constituent assembly from introducing whatever amendments it pleases, he said.
Fr. Joaquin Bernas, dean emeritus of the Ateneo de Manila University law school and one of those who framed the 1987 Constitution, decried what he believed was a violation of the Constitution. “They are toying with the Constitution. They have been fooling the people,” Bernas was quoted as saying by gmanews.tv. He said Filipinos should be outraged by the passage of HR 1109.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., in a statement, said any resolution without the participation of the Senate “is the dying gasp of a terminally ill House that wishes to bring the nation to the brink of upheaval.” Other senators have lambasted as well the resolution.
Meanwhile, Ibon Foundation’s research head Sonny Africa said the railroading of HR 1109 could bring about greater political instability.
“Last night’s railroading by Arroyo allies sets the stage for heightened political instability because it confirms Arroyo’s unrelenting effort to remain in power,” Africa said in a separate interview.
“The tipping point leading to rapidly accelerating outrage and protest will likely be reached once it becomes clear that the 2010 elections and the desired removal of Arroyo from power won’t be taking place after all,” Africa said.
“The deepening economic crisis and government neglect is also a significant factor creating conditions for an upheaval,” Africa added.
Ibon Foundation, a socio-economic think tank, ran a survey on Charter change on April 17-26 among 1,496 respondents from across different sectors. The results showed, among other things, that 69.5 percent of the respondents oppose the shift to a parliamentary form of government.
Colmenares said the minority bloc in Congress has the option of going to the Supreme Court to question the legality of Charter change through constituent assembly as provided for by HR 1109.
“The bigger fight, however, is in the public sphere,” Colmenares said.
On Wednesday, progressive groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) held a protest march toward House of Representatives despite the heavy rain.
“How much money did Arroyo’s minions gain from this?” asked Elmer Labog, the chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, referring to reports of a 20-million peso payoff to legislators.
“You should serve the people, not Arroyo,” Rommel Linatoc of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines said during the picket at the south gate of the Batasan complex.
Joms Salvador of Gabriela said the move to amend the charter is one way for Arroyo to evade accountability for the many crimes her regime allegedly committed. “Bawat araw na nariyan si Gloria ay pambababoy sa karapatan ng mamamayan,” she said.Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod said those who voted “aye” to the resolution “must explain to their constituents the reasons why HR 1109 was pushed without regard to the people’s vehement opposition to Cha-cha.” (With reports by Glaiza May G. Muzones and Ronalyn V. Olea). Bulatlat.com