BY Ellen Tordesillas
Ang Pahayagang Malaya
THIS is what the five bishops warned about just three weeks ago: Gloria Arroyo will ram Charter Change down the people’s throats.
A report from the House of Representatives yesterday said House Resolution 737 amending the economic provision of the Constitution has been signed by 163 congressmen. House Speaker Prospero Nograles, who authored the resolution, needs only 15 more signatures to meet the required 175 signatures, representing three-fourths of the House of Representatives membership to bring the resolution to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments, then to the plenary.
The Cha-Cha train is cranking up. Destination: Beyond 2010.
This is what Press Secretary Jesus Dureza prayed for last Tuesday at the start of the Cabinet meeting: That Gloria Arroyo “have forbearance, good health, and tolerance to lead this nation until 2010, and who knows, perhaps even beyond.”
It was not a slip of the tongue. It was an announcement.
It’ was not a surprise. In fact, it’s a confirmation of what Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and Lingayen Archbishop Oscar Cruz said last Oct. 29 in a press conference.
Cruz said, “When congress opens in Nov. 10, charter change will be an open, public and well funded move in the lower house. Whether it will triumph in the Senate is still debatable. But then I repeat, no more camouflage, no more double-talk, no more indirect insinuations, but Charter Change will be an honest-to-goodness agenda for Congress.”
Cruz further said “that elections in 2010 is a big dream, in short elections in 2010 is a moral impossibility.”
Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, president of the United Opposition, said time is running out for Arroyo and her allies. “By middle of 2009, people will be talking about the 2010 elections. If they (majority congressmen) are going to embark on a last-ditch effort for Charter change for Mrs. Arroyo’s benefit, they have to do it now.”
Binay said pro-Arroyo local executives and her House allies conducted public consultations on the issue of amending the Constitution while Congress was on a month-long recess. He said more than 100 pro-Arroyo congressmen are expected to report an “overwhelming consensus” in favor of Charter change.
“The Cha-Cha express is all set. And we should brace ourselves in the next few weeks for a final attempt to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s stay in Malacañang,” Binay warned.
Arroyo and her allies had attempted several times to amend the Constitution to shift from presidential to parliamentary system so Arroyo could remain in power beyond 2010. In December 2006, the House of Representatives led by then House Speaker Jose de Venecia railroaded a resolution calling for a Senate-less Constitutional Assembly. They had to back off after a few days when the Catholic Church and the Iglesia ni Cristo warned of massive protests.
Just two months ago, Arroyo tried to smuggle charter change in the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Supreme Court declared the MOA unconstitutional.
Cha-cha advocates are trying another tack with HR 737. Nograles is of the view that Congress can actually amend specific provisions of the Constitution.
HR 737 calls for the amendment of Sections 2 and 3 of Article 12 of the Constitution “to allow the acquisition by foreign corporations and associations and the transfer or conveyance thereto, of alienable public and private lands.”
Nograles said that while a mere resolution, even if approved by the majority members of the House of Representatives, does not have the effect of law, it can still serve as the basis of raising a point of constitutional inquiry before the Supreme Court.
“If the Supreme Court says that Congress can enact laws that in effect will repeal specific provisions of the Constitution, then we might be able to avoid this protracted legal and constitutional wrangling on how we can attune the Constitution to the new challenges confronting our country,” he said.
It is feared that with several Supreme Court justices up for retirement next year, Arroyo would be able to pack the high court with justices who would declare as legal a resolution to amend the Constitution without participation of the Senate.
Binay said survey after survey has shown that the people are overwhelmingly against charter change that will allow Arroyo to stay in power beyond 2010.
“If Malacañang pushes through with Cha-Cha despite public opinion, this could well be the tipping point for the movement to remove an unpopular pretender to the presidency,” he warned.
It could be just what the country needs.