Friday, October 3, 2008

Philippines: Cha-cha via Con-Ass readied for 2009

This is from the Tribune. You need a special dictionary to interpret some of these Philippine news articles! Cha-cha means Charter change, change to the Philippine constitution. Con-Ass stands for Congressional Assembly. Arroyo is anxious to change the constitution so that she can serve after her term runs out in 2010 but she also is most anxious to sell out the Philippines to foreign investors so she wants to get rid of nationalist provisions in the constitution. She also claims that the change is necessary for successful negotiations with the MILF since the original agreement is against the constitution. However the peace negotiations are going nowhere anyway it seems and it is not clear that changing to a federal system would really satisfy the autonomy wishes of the MILF.

Cha-cha via Con-Ass readied for 2009
All MalacaƱang roads lead to Charter change being implemented early next year, with the likely imprimatur of the country’s Supreme Court (SC), as it holds the key to the start of the Cha-cha process.
Despite assurances from MalacaƱang that President Arroyo will step down in 2010 to make way for her successor, all indications point to the Constitution undergoing a thorough revision to ensure a continued stay in power of Mrs. Arroyo.
This plan to change the Charter was broadly hinted at by one of Mrs. Arroyo’s staunchest allies in the Senate, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago.
Santiago yesterday bared before students of Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela, Bulacan, that there are now two “compelling” reasons to change the Constitution, saying that the
first is the “imperative necessity to change the nationalistic provisions” for the Philippines to become globally competitive.
“The present Constitution, in many provisions, is very zealous of the rights of Filipinos to own public land, to exploit our natural resources, and to protect Filipino labor. However, all these nationalistic provisions serve as a barrier to the near-desperate efforts by our business community to attract foreign direct investments.
“It is only natural that a foreign business company will want to own majority control of a corporation that it might establish in our country. We are engaged in cut-throat global competition for foreign investments. But if we continue to limit foreign participation to minority control, naturally they will seek majority control in other countries which allow it,” she told the students at their symposium.
The second compelling reason, Santiago stressed, is that it may be necessary to change from a unitary to a federal system of government, as a solution to “the long-standing issue of Muslim separatism.”
On this, Santiago elaborated by saying that “in providing for the concept of local autonomy, the Constitution fails to satisfy the demands of certain minority sectors in our society. For this reason, the Constitution provides for autonomous regions in Muslim Mindanao and the Cordilleras . But it appears that in Muslim Mindanao, the Muslim leaders insist not only on regional autonomy, but also on much wider authority for their own local government. This could only be achieved, if we adopt the proposal for a federal system of government.
“In a federal system, each state is a virtual state within a state, as in the United States of America.
“It is a system of dual sovereignty. However, we have to be extremely careful that a new constitutional provision shall prohibit absolutely any right of secession on the part of a federated state. Otherwise, the claim to secede by one region might cause a civil war, as it did in the United States.”
It will be recalled that some months back, the President was pushing federalism, as a solution to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) problem, through the grant of an MILF state under a federal system to be worked out as a negotiated peace settlement with the Moro rebels.
This was met with public opposition, and later it was discovered that Mrs. Arroyo had in fact virtually granted the MILF that independent Islamic state within the Philippine state, through a Palace-approved Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MoA-AD) which was later stopped by the high court from being formally signed by the two parties.
That MoA-AD, had it been signed formally, would have forced the nation to change the Charter to fit the demands of the MILF.
At the SC, Solicitor-General Agnes Devanadera, in open arguments, claimed that the President did not know of the conditions contained in the MoA-AD and that she had not authorized its approval or its signing by the peace negotiators.
Government chief negotiator Gen. Rodolfo Garcia, also told the SC that he had initialed the MoA-AD even when he was not authorized by the President to do so.
But lately, it has been disclosed by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez that Mrs. Arroyo, as well as the Cabinet cluster, was well aware of the contents of the MoA-AD prior to the peace panel having initialed it.
The denials were made evidently to protect Mrs. Arroyo from being charged and impeached for treason in the dismemberment of the Republic through the grant of an MILF independent Islamic state.
The President yesterday said that regardless of what the high court decides on this issue, the government will no longer sign the MoA.
“In the light of the recent violent incidents committed by MILF lawless groups, the government will not sign the MoA,” the President stressed at the 107th anniversary celebration of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) at the Army Officer’s Club in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City.
“We are committed to doing everything possible to bring lasting peace to Mindanao and end 40 years of fighting that has killed more than 120,000 people,” she said.
“It is in the interest of all Filipinos, Muslim and Christians, to end the violence that has held that part of our country back and required an investment of hundreds of millions of pesos to support our military presence there.”
To achieve lasting peace in southern Philippines, all peace talks will be refocused from dialogs with rebels to one with authentic dialogs with both Muslim and Christian communities, the President said.
Under this new policy, armed groups will be held accountable for all their actions and shall have as their overarching aim, the goal of ending all forms of armed rebellion in the country.
“Our people, together with government, will be the primary force in defining the shape and direction of societal change, not the force of arms,” the President stressed.
But even as the MoA-AD is dead in the water, the goal to change the Charter is apparently alive and well.
The House of Representatives has already started the Cha-cha ball rolling, with administration legislators stating that there is need to effect a constitutional change on the economic provisions of the Charter, using the same argument being used today by Santiago: For economic progress through the country’s emergence in global competitiveness.
Santiago hinted broadly that Cha-cha can come about by early next year, through the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) over which the Supreme Court will have to rule.
As explained by the senator, Cha-cha can be done “not by means of an elected constitutional convention, but by means of turning Congress into a Constituent Assembly.”
She pointed out that if Congress acts as a Con-Ass, the problem on how the three-fourths vote required by the Constitution for Cha-cha should be computed and that this is a question that must be answered.
She adds that “one interpretation is that the senators and representatives should vote separately, but in joint session. The other interpretation is that each chamber should vote separately, in separate sessions.
“Let me make the issue clearer. How shall we compute the three fourths vote necessary to pass Charter change? Should it be three fourths of the votes of 238 representatives, plus the votes of 23 senators, or 261 votes in all? Three-fourths of 261 will mean that Charter change needs 195 votes. Or should it be three-fourths of the Representatives, plus three-fourths of the senators? Three-fourths of the House will mean 178 votes, and three-fourths of the Senate will mean 17 votes. This issue is the subject of heated debates, but the authoritative answer to this paramount threshold question can only be given by the Supreme Court,” Santiago stressed.
It is common knowledge that the high court is packed with Mrs. Arroyo’s partisans, which already count for the majority in the SC. With the early retirement of an associate justice, along with many others retiring by early next year, there will be seven vacancies in the high court for Mrs. Arroyo to fill up with those who will be beholden to her.
While the Senate has rejected the idea of a Con-Ass, it is likely that the Con-Ass plans will bear fruit, as any congressman can bring this issue of joint or separate voting before a high court that is packed with justices vulnerable to the political whims and caprices of Mrs. Arroyo.

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