Charter change through constituent assembly still alive

Published by rudy Date posted on February 20, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – The renewed effort of President Arroyo’s House allies for Charter change (Cha-cha) via a constituent assembly (con ass) is very much alive, Rep. Joel Villanueva of the party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption said yesterday.

He told reporters that on Wednesday, he personally witnessed “10 or more” congressmen drop by the office of Speaker Prospero Nograles.

“They were made to sign a resolution. This is not the Speaker’s resolution on amending the economic provisions of the Constitution, but the con ass resolution of Rep. (Luis) Villafuerte (of Camarines Sur),” he said.

He said “Malacañang allies” were in Nograles’ office to present the Villafuerte resolution to House members who have not signed it.

“This means that Cha-cha via con ass is President Arroyo’s exit option. She can stay in office beyond 2010 through an amendment that will extend her term,” he said.

He added that there is Malacañang pressure for Nograles to help in the signature-collection drive of Villafuerte and his colleagues.

“We should be vigilant against the GMA forever campaign,” Villanueva stressed.

Sought for comment, Nograles confirmed that some congressmen went to his office to sign Villafuerte’s resolution asking the Senate and the House to convene as a con ass.

But he insisted that his Resolution 737 on economic amendments would take the legislative process route, which means that it would be sent to the Senate after the House approves it.

The committee on constitutional amendments has already endorsed the Nograles resolution, on which the House expects to begin floor discussions next week or before Congress goes on its Holy Week break next month.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile has expressed support for the Speaker’s proposed changes in the Constitution’s economic provisions since the envisioned process involves his chamber.

In contrast, Villafuerte’s con-ass could bypass senators. Villafuerte, who is president of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), President Arroyo’s party, made this clear in a recent debate with Rep. Roilo Golez of Parañaque.

“We will invite them (senators). If they don’t show up, it will be their fault,” the Kampi chief said.

He claimed 197 congressmen could propose Charter amendments by themselves since they represent three-fourths of the combined membership of the Senate and the House.

“The Constitution provides that amendments be approved by a three-fourths vote of all members of Congress,” he said.

As of last count, Villafuerte and his Kampi colleagues had 165 signatures on their con-ass resolution, or 32 shy of their target.

Con-ass proponents stepped up their signature-collection drive a few days after former senior government officials, including some who served in Mrs. Arroyo’s Cabinet, warned the nation that the President would try to cling to power via Cha-cha.

Unlike Nograles’ Resolution 737 that proposes specific constitutional changes, Villafuerte’s con-ass can subject the entire Constitution to amendments.

If this happens, Mrs. Arroyo’s critics fear that her allies might extend her term along with their own tenure.- Jess Diaz, Philippine Star

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