BY CARMELA FONBUENA, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak
Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas, in a newspaper paid advertisement on Monday. reiterated his rejection of convening Congress into a Constituent Assembly. He instead called for the holding of a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) in 2010.
“Instead of pushing for charter change through a Constituent Assembly, the Liberal Party (LP) will sponsor a bill in Congress calling for a holding of a Constitutional Convention in 2010 with elections of delegates to be done simultaneously with the 2010 elections,” said the advertisement of the Liberal Party entitled “Stop the Gloria Forever Constitution.”
The ad was signed by Roxas along with two other LP stalwarts, former Senator Franklin Drilon and LP secretary-general Joseph Abaya. The advertisement comes a day before the scheduled hearing of the House committee on constitutional amendments.
At least one resolution calling for Constitutional Convention has been filed in the lower House. House Resolution 858 was filed by Buahy Rep. Rene Velarde, Marikina City Rep. Del De Guzman, and Shariff Kabunsuan with Cotabato City Rep. Didagen Dilangalen.
Con-Ass vs. Con-Con
The LP advertisement accused President Arroyo’s political party, Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI), of “railroading the people’s future through the Gloria Forever Constitution.”
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte is leading a yet-to-be-filed House Resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly that would amend the Constitution through joint voting of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Once they get the needed signatures, they expect an opposition to it before the Supreme Court, which will then issue a ruling on whether joint voting is a proper procedure in amending the Constitution.
A Constituent Assembly to amend the Constitution may be convened with the three-fourths vote of approval, or 196 votes, by the two legislative chambers. Separate voting would require 179 votes from the lower House and 18 votes from the Senate. Joint voting will make the Senate irrelevant because all 196 votes may come from the 238-member House of Representatives.
Although the resolution filed by administration ally House Speaker Prospero Nograles in the House committee on constitutional amendments only seeks to change the economic provisions of the Constitution to scrap the 40 percent limit on foreign ownership, various sectors fear that any tinkering with the Constitution will open it up to a proposal to extend the term of President Arroyo.
LP congressmen are among the signatories to House Resolution 888 that counters the “Villafuerte resolution.” Led by Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo, the resolution seeks to prevent "any and all moves to amend the 1987 Constitution before the 2010 elections, including the proposed convening of Congress into a Constituent Assembly."
Ocampo said the goal is to get enough signatures to prevent the administration congressmen from getting the needed signatures to advance charter change. That means they need at least 60 votes to prevent them from gathering three-fourths votes of the lower House or 179 votes. The Senate is generally opposed to Constituent Assembly.
“Our nation is divided; our economy is under threat from the global economic crisis. Politics continues to take the front seat, while the people take severe punishment, corruption, high prices and no jobs,” the LP advertisement further said.
“This will weaken our economy in the face of the global economic crisis. This will mean less jobs, food insecurity and unpeace. This will perpetuate corruption,” it added.
Melo: Con-con can be done
When asked if the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can hold a Constitutional Convention simultaneously with the 2010 national and local elections, Comelec chairman Jose Melo told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak, “It can be done....[Con-Con] Elections can be held together with the elections of national and local positions.”
The Comelec is currently preparing for the first automated national elections in 2010. Asked if they have the time to include the elections of the Con-Con delegates, “It will be a little tedious, but we can do it.
The Comelec is just waiting for the government appropriations for the lease of the voting machines. “The President will have to give Congress a supplemental budget,” Melo said. The 2009 budget is currently being finalized in Congress.
Melo is confident that Comelec will get the funding. “They will have to do it. The President herself listed it as one of the ten things she committed to do in 2010.”
The Comelec needs the funding by the end of February. “If we don’t have the money by that time, we cannot pursue automation. Even if they give us the money, but they give it in April or May, it will be too late,” Melo said.
Originally, Comelec asked for P22 billion to fund the automation of elections. With the legislators finding the amount too steep, Comelec was able to reduce it. Melo said they can pursue automation with a budget of P11 billion to P13 billion. “That doesn’t mean to say we’re going to use inferior machines,” he said.
Opposed to cha-cha
Several administration allies have joined the calls against charter change (cha-cha). Earlier, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago warned that the push for charter change may result in a political scenario similar to Thailand, where massive anti-government protests have caused the closure of its international airport. President Arroyo had to order the airlift of stranded Filipinos there.
Senator Richard Gordon also prefers Constitutional Convention instead of a Constituent Assembly. Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the lower House cannot push for a Constituent Assembly without the participation of the Senate.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, the vice-chair of the House justice committee, which dismissed the impeachment complaint against Arroyo, is opposed to charter change, too.
The leftist group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) also said they are preparing for widespread protest actions.
“The anti cha-cha sentiments are certainly not confined to Metro Manila. Bayan is working with religious, business and civic leaders even in provinces in efforts to oppose charter change,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes.