MANILA, Philippines – Charter change battle lines are being drawn in Congress, which resumes session this week to decide whether or not to amend the 1987 Constitution.
Speaker Prospero Nograles said he would ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for guidance on whether a plebiscite on Charter change (Cha-cha) is still possible before next year’s general elections.
“If nothing happens by June 6, I may concede that it is too late,” he said. “But between now and sine die on June 6, I would go through the process.”
The final push for Charter change will be met by militant groups under the umbrella organization Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) with a protest rally when Congress resumes session today.
The House will begin debate on Charter change this week until session ends on June 6.
Bayan will march from the corner of Batasan Road and Commonwealth Avenue toward the gates of the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa complex.
Nograles told radio station dzRH it is important for lawmakers to know if there is still time to amend the Constitution, especially since the filing of certificates of candidacy has been moved up from February 2010 to November 2009.
“Even if it takes us 48 hours debating on Cha-cha, in the final analysis, it is not us who will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to this, but the people. That is why I think I have to consult (Comelec) on that,” he said.
On the House agenda are Resolution 737 of Nograles calling for the lifting of the prohibition against foreign persons and entities owning local companies and public and private lands, and the proposed resolution of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte seeking to convene the House into a constituent assembly without the Senate.
The resolution of Nograles is up for second reading after the House committee on constitutional amendments chaired by La Union Rep. Victor Ortega sent it to the plenary.
The proposed resolution of Villafuerte reportedly has the signature of 177 House members.
Villafuerte is convinced that with 197 signatures, they can do away with the Senate and provide a “justiciable” controversy where the Supreme Court would be forced to rule if both chambers should vote jointly or separately when it comes to amending the Constitution.
However, Nograles said convening Congress into a constituent assembly to introduce amendments to the Constitution might be pressed for time.
Meanwhile, Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño said the pro-administration Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, of which Nograles is president, and Villafuerte’s faction of the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino are just “slugging it out,” even if their chances for Charter change are “nil.”
“Both groups know there’s no time for Cha-cha, but they are jockeying for GMA who wants Cha-cha for her own agenda,” he said.
“It is disgusting to see how Cha-cha has turned into a proxy war between Nograles-Lakas and Villafuerte-Kampi to prove who is more loyal to GMA.”
What is at stake is not only the speakership but the use of government resources in 2010, Casiño said.
Other priority bills before Congress are the Reproductive Health Bill, the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, the Right of Reply Bill for media, biometrics for registered voters, compensation for human rights victims and strengthening of the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. underscored the need to oppose the “persistent moves to amend the 1987 Constitution, saying this has far-reaching repercussions.
“Arroyo’s allies in Congress are holding their own Easter egg hunt for that elusive Charter change formula. But this is not a harmless game. The persistent moves to change the Charter have far-reaching repercussions. There is again a sense of urgency to stop this latest move,” Reyes said.
Bayan believes that the Cha-cha proponents hope to pave the way for President Arroyo’s stay in power by postponing the elections next year or by creating a transition presidency after which Mrs. Arroyo can be made prime minister.
“The implication of allowing the amendment of the Constitution is that Mrs. Arroyo stays in power indefinitely,” Reyes pointed out.
“Despite Palace pronouncements that it favors the holding of elections in 2010, the scenarios for either postponing elections or having Arroyo stay in power are very much alive. The Cha-cha resolution, if passed by the Lower House, can still lead to a battle in the Supreme Court,” Reyes also said.
On Tuesday, another protest action is set as other anti-Cha-cha groups are expected to join a planned motorcade from St. Peter’s church to the House of Representatives.
“We can never be complacent until all the Arroyo-initiated Charter change moves are withdrawn. The fact that the proponents of Cha-cha want to bring the matter to the Supreme Court tells us Arroyo’s allies are still planning to maneuver before and even after the 2010 elections,” Reyes said.–Delon Porcalla And Katherine Adraneda, Philippine Star