Sunday, November 30, 2008

Philippines: Gloria allies ready final push for Constitutional Change aka Cha-cha.

Even though Gloria claims that the constitutional change has nothing to do with extending her term, the opposition refuses to believe that. Gloria shows her tactical skill by attempting to bend the rules to her aims by having the two houses vote together on the changes since she has a large majority of support in the lower house. Although the Supreme Court will probably have to decided the constitutionality of this scheme it is packed with Arroyo appointments. However, even then the eminent judges sometimes decide enough is enough!

Gloria allies ready final push for Cha-cha
By Angie M. Rosales
Running short of time, allies of President Arroyo in the House of Representatives are moving at double-time to push Charter change (Cha-cha) efforts with Sen. Aquilino Pimentel warning that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies would likely use numerical superiority to ram through efforts to amend the Constitution.
Insistence of Palace allies in Congress to have the two chambers vote jointly in effecting Cha-cha is obviously aimed at taking advantage of the apparent numerical superiority of lawmakers supporting the administration in the House of Representatives, effectively railroading the move to amend the 1987 Constitution, Pimentel, the Senate minority leader, said.
This will also enable President Arroyo to stay in power even beyond her mandate, he added.
A ranking Lakas CMD executive said Palace allies in the House of Representatives are running short of time in pushing Cha-cha with only barely six months for them to work on it since the law stipulates that efforts to change the Constitution cannot be undertaken one year before elections.
Ed Malay told a a forum held at Dapitan Manila yesterday that people will oppose any move to alter the present form of government.
“People right now would rather wait for 2010 to voice out their sentiments in what is happening now and GMA knows that very well after the debacle of team unity last senatorial election,” he said.
The insistence of administration congressmen for a joint voting is patently unconstitutional, against parliamentary tradition and simply illogical, Pimentel said even as he pointed out that the House has at present 229 congressmen compared to only 23 senators.
“If we vote jointly, we will always be overwhelmed and outnumbered by the House,” he said.
Pimentel said Mrs. Arroyo’s allies are pursuing this devious scheme on the presumption that when the issue of its constitutionality is raised before the Supreme Court, their position will be upheld by the tribunal.
However, he said he firmly believes that the Supreme Court, even if it is packed with Arroyo appointees, will resolve this issue according to the rule of law and the paramount public interest, and not to please the appointing authority.
The senator from Mindanao dared the proponents of the joint voting scheme to drop their proposal altogether to remove a major stumbling block that has set back the process for amending the Constitution.
The opposition lawmaker likewise warned saying that the trashing of the fourth impeachment case against Mrs. Arroyo is a portent of things to come if the administration lawmakers will insist on amending the Constitution through joint voting of the Senate and lower house.
House allies of Mrs. Arroyo, meanwhile, accused anti-charter change groups of exploiting the issue in a bid to derail legitimate attempts to amend the Constitution.
The administration lawmakers said that anti-charter change groups are suffering from paranoia.
“We are not going to extend the term of office of public officials, including the President,” says La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments.
House Speaker Prospero Nograles, one of the proponents of charter change, reiterated that he himself is against the term extension and proposals to postpone the 2010 elections.
“We will not extend her (President Arroyo) term. Period,” Nograles said.
Taking the cudgels for Mrs. Arroyo, Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez, chairman of the House Committee on Trade and Industry, said that the president will step down as mandated by law.
“I am against term extension for the President simply because she is against it. The President has become a collateral damage of this Charter change enterprise,” Alvarez said.
“She has neither given any order, direct or indirect, verbal or written, nor dropped a hint or a text message that she wants to stay in MalacaƱang any minute longer than what’s allowed by law,” Alvarez said.
“What they did to the impeachment case by using their numerical superiority, they will also do on the proposed extension of terms,” Pimentel added.
The minority leader said the administration game plan was pried open when it was discovered that the House committee on constitutional amendments had started discussion on a resolution, authored by Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas, to extend the term of all elective public officials from June 30, 2010 to June 30, 2011.
But the principal objective of the administration, according to Pimentel is to adopt a parliamentary system of government where the constitutional ban against the reelection of the incumbent president will be rendered inoperative. This will enable Mrs. Arroyo to run for Member of Parliament in Pampanga and subsequently for prime minister.
At the same time, Pimentel disagreed on the suggestion of former University of the Philippines and l97l Constitutional Convention secretary general Jose Abueva to hold a Constitutional Convention and the election of its delegates in May, 2010 meaning simultaneously with the scheduled national and local elections.
Pimentel argued that it would be much better to convert Congress into a Constituent Assembly than to call a Con-Con because it is a faster and an inexpensive process.
Moreover, he said it is inadvisable to hold the election of Con Con delegates and national and local government officials at the same time because the public discussion of constitutional issues and specific amendments is likely to be overshadowed by partisan political issues during the election campaign.
“With the many problems she is facing, she certainly doesn’t need this aggravation. Sadly, here is the case of a clueless dorm mother getting the blame for the actions of her boarders. What’s certain is 17 months from now, she’ll do a (outgoing-US President George) Bush, and that is to welcome to Malacanang her successor to kick off an orderly transition.”
Another lawmaker, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, said anti-Chacha efforts prevent an “honest-to-goodness” revisiting of the 1987 Constitution, which contains some provisions that are either no longer useful or needs improvement, especially those involving economic policies that is included in the proposals of Nograles.
“Speaker Nograles’s proposal covers only the liberalization of the restrictive economic provisions in order to make the country competitive with other countries in attracting foreign investments, most especially if we consider the current global economic crisis. And therefore the argument that it is intended to extend the term of GMA is certainly and totally misplaced,” Barzaga said.
Nograles had earlier filed House Resolution 737 which calls on the House and Senate to convene into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution. Specifically, the resolution aims to amend only Sections 2 and 3, Article 12 of the 1987 Constitution to allow 100-percent foreign ownership of lands.
Marikina Rep. Marcelino Teodoro described the efforts of anti-Chacha forces as “ill-motivated” and only promotes divisiveness in the country.
“The term extension issue of anti-Charter change groups are but ill-motivated. To think that way is only promoting divisiveness in our country. The Philippine Constitution is a 20-year old manifesto and the present global economic turmoil necessitates major amendments with the economic policies implemented in the country,” he said.
He added: “The conditions of 1987 is no longer our current situation, and the laws of the land must adapt to these conditions. Employment opportunities for Filipinos are no longer limited locally but in a global scale due to the technological advances through the years.”
Senator Loren Legarda also urged the administration and its Congress allies to drop the move for charter change and instead focus on strengthening the economy through a “fiscal stimulus package” in the face of the global financial crisis shaking up the world.
“Instead of throwing away hundreds of millions of pesos to efforts to amend the Constitution, which may only be futile because of rejection by the majority of the people, our government should devise a financial stimulus to boost agricultural productivity and help small businessmen to survive from the financial crisis,” Loren declared.
Loren said that the holding of a constituent assembly or convention and later of a nationwide plebiscite to ratify the amendments “would cost hundreds of millions of pesos which should be better directed to the strengthening of the national economy to prevent mass layoffs as well as the further spread of hunger among our people.”
She noted that 40 percent of Filipinos have experienced chronic hunger as found by a recent opinion survey.
“The work required to draft amendments to the Constitution will also divert Congress from enacting urgent and relevant laws to bolster the economy. It is untimely, considering the global financial crisis, the worst since the Great Depression, that will also set back our economy. Already we are facing a marked slowdown in our economic growth, resulting in the further spread of poverty and hunger,” Loren said.
The lady senator, who is the new chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, declared that the money that would be used to effect charter change should be allocated instead to farmers and small and medium enterprises to increase agricultural productivity and prevent the folding up of small businesses.
“At present there is a deep dissatisfaction among our farmers because they are not getting enough financial and infrastructure support from the government while much is expected of them to improve productivity. They also strongly resent and deplore the diversion of P780 milllion intended for farm aid to other uses in 2004, allegedly for the benefit of administration politicians in the 2004 elections as shown by the fertilizer scam,” Loren pointed out. “Small businessmen feel neglected because the promised government aid to them still has to be delivered.”
Loren said that the money allocated for charter change could provide a core for a “fiscal stimulus package” to jump-start the economy and prevent a recession that is being experienced by the United States, Japan and Europe.
“Already our export products, like electronics, are in difficult straits because of lower demand from the US and Japan, which are our biggest export destinations,” Loren asserted. “We can help our export industries to modernize so they can become more competitive.”
Gerry Baldo, Pat C. Santos

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