SC party-list ruling kills Cha-cha

Published by rudy Date posted on April 22, 2009

Charter change (Cha-cha) through the one-chamber Constituent Assembly (Con-ass) is dead in the water, with the Supreme Court (SC) ruling having set the guidelines for parties running for the remaining party-list slots in Congress to represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors in society.

The decision raised the party-list seats to 55 from the current 23 and effectively increased the required three-fourths vote needed for Congress to amend or revise the Constitution.

This new development, through the SC decision, however, has not stopped Malacañang, through National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales, who now proposes that a better mode of changing the Constitution would be one which is patterned after former President Corazon

Aquino’s Constitutional Commission, where some 50 delegates where handpicked by Aquino to draft the 1987 Charter.

“Charter change can be done today — very quickly and without much mess. That is, if there is sincerity and political will among our present political leaders to pursue the societal changes that the country needs,” Gonzales said, adding that “given our political environment today, the best mechanism that we can have to amend our Charter is the same as President Aquino’s constitutional commission.”

Gonzales recalled that in just about a year, President Aquino completed Charter change and subsequently called for new elections. “It was cheap, uncomplicated and very quick. And the body that changed the Constitution was very lean,” he emphasized.

“Should the current political leadership decide to undertake the same noble act, time should not be a constraint. It is really a question of sincerity and desire for change on the part of our present political leaders,” Gonzales said.

The Malacañang official stressed that the key to charter change today is the heads of the three branches of government coming together to have a sincere dialog and agree among themselves to finally pursue the societal change long needed by the country. “We are talking here of just four people to begin with,” he noted, adding that there may no longer be a need for his proposed transition presidency if the nation pursues Cha-cha before 2010.

But Malacañang quickly disowned the proposal, saying that Gonzales acted beyond his authority while proposing a con-com to revise the Charter.

“I will not comment on the legal viability of his proposal,” Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III stated yesterday. “I don’t know if the President is aware of this,” he added.

The Palace is very tolerant when it comes to the diverging position of Cabinet officials and the position of Gonzales is “not as security adviser” but as leader of his own party, Bello said, stressing that “we have 47 Cabinet members and each has his own opinion and we continue to respect diverging political opinion. This is not unexpected that there will be divergence in opinion. We are always tolerant of this,” Bello said.

He however reiterated that “the Palace is maintaining its distance on the issue of Gonzales making statement on political matters. He is speaking of his own party. I would like to correct the impression that we reprimanded Gonzales,” Bello said, explaining that the security adviser earlier proposal on transition government was legally infirm.

Yet Bello also said that “what we can do is have one amendment to the Constitution that will add a constitutional commission as another mode of Charter change. The alternative is to change the nomenclature of the constitutional convention mode to reduce its composition to a more manageable size,” Bello said.

In a 35-page decision, the Court through Associate Justice Antonio Carpio partially granted the petition filed by Barangay Association for National Advancement and Transparency’s (Banat) and set aside the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ruling on the matter.

“We declare unconstitutional the two percent threshold in the distribution of additional party-list seats. The allocation of additional seats under the Party-List System shall be in accordance with the procedure used in of this Decision. Major political parties are disallowed from participating in party-list elections,” the SC said in its ruling.

The decision expands to 55 seats the number of allocated party-list seats. At present, of that number only 23 seats are filled from 17 winning party list groups.

Under the ruling by a vote of 8-7, the Court decided to continue its earlier ruling disallowing major political parties from participating in the party-list elections, directly or indirectly.

While the SC left the computation to the Comelec, the SC ruling entitles at least four parties parties which already has two seats to an additional seat namely Bayan Muna, Cibac,Gabriela and Apec.

But Kampi president Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte is all set to go before the high court and question the “fourth mode” as initiated by Speaker Prospero Nograles in amending the Charter.

Stressing there is no such thing as a fourth mode provided for in the Constitution in amending the Charter, Villafuerte Tuesday vowed to raise before the SCthe mode the House is pursuing House Resolution 737.

In an ambush interview, Villafuerte said the mode the House is taking with regard to HR 737 which seeks to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution is illegal as it is unconstitutional.

Now in the period of sponsorship, HR 737 is being treated by the House leadership as an ordinary piece of legislation wherein the resolution should pass the House in all three readings before it is transmitted to the Senate.

“There is no such thing as a fourth mode in amending the Constitution. Once the debate on HR 737 begins, I will take the floor and oppose it,” Villafuerte declared.

“There is a recognized distinction between the exercise of legislative powers of Congress form the exercise of the constituent power to amend or revise the Constitution,” he added. “The issue will be raised before the Supreme Court (SC) and I will personally be filing it before the SC.”

Rep. Edno Joson stressed the House cannot initiate any move to amend the Charter without it formally convening first as a Constituent Assembly.

For his part, Minority leader Ronaldo Zamora said the seeming dispute between Nograles and Villafuerte’s interpretations is only hastening the issuance of a SC ruling on how the voting on changing the Constitution should be undertaken.

”There has to be a controvery before the court can take this up. But can the SC still vote on this? Time is the enemy,” he pointed out.

The House has apparently activated its game plan to bring the issue of Charter Change to the Supreme Court, Makati Mayor and United Opposition president Jejomar C. Binay said.

“Bringing the issue of Charter change to the Supreme Court was the game plan all along. What we are witnessing is a script being played out by Lakas and Kampi,” Binay said.

“It seems that the posturing and the public bickering were all for media consumption only. The Arroyo allies in the House are united in bringing the issue of Cha-cha to the Supreme Court where they hope to get a sympathetic ruling,” he said.

With Mrs. Arroyo appointing new justices this year, House allies of Mrs. Arroyo are confident that the SC will rule in favor of their Con-ass proposal. Once such a ruling is secured, there is no stopping congressmen from extending the term of Mrs. Arroyo or shifting to a parliamentary form of government where Mrs. Arroyo can serve as prime minister, he said.

Binay had scored the Arroyo administration for being “the real destabilizers.”

The Arroyo administration is creating disunity at a time of economic crisis. The Cha-cha plan and Mrs. Arroyo’s silence on the issue bolsters suspicions that there is a separate, more sinister plan to trigger political unrest to justify emergency rule and the cancellation of elections,” he said.

–Benjamin B. Pulta and Riza Recio with Charlie V. Manalo, Daily Tribune

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