Anti-Cha-cha forces reunite to fight Con-ass

MANILA - All is set for nationwide protests on Wednesday to oppose the latest attempt to change the 1987 Constitution through a constituent assembly (Con-ass) as approved by the House of Representatives last week.

In the national capital region, various church groups closed ranks to fight Con-ass. Together with at least seven senators and civil society groups, they are expected to mobilize thousands of citizens in Wednesday’s protest action in Makati City to denounce the latest charter change moves.

Protest actions will also be held in various cities including Dagupan, Bacolod, Iloilo and Cagayan De Oro.

Manila Archbishop Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales has called on his flock to join the street protests against the convening of a constituent assembly that would amend the charter.

“What they did was not good, and why only now? It is obvious they are in haste, but why are they doing it now when their terms of office are about to end?” Rosales said in an interview with Radio Veritas on Monday.

Opening salvo

Renato Reyes Jr., leader of the militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said Wednesday’s rally will just be the “opening salvo” of a series of protests until President Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 27.

House leaders have said they may convene a constituent assembly after Arroyo’s SONA. HR 1109 allows the assembly to amend the charter through joint voting of both houses of Congress even without the Senate.

As opposed to separate voting, joint voting will allow the 265-member House of Representatives to meet the three-fourths vote—218 congressmen—needed to approve charter amendments even without the help of any senator.

“There will be no let up in protests. The SONA would be a major political battleground insofar as pushing the Con-ass is concerned. We hope to mobilize what could be the biggest SONA protest in Arroyo’s eight years in office,” Reyes said.

Public outrage

According to protest organizers, only public outrage will stop Charter change. They believe that, at the very least, the Supreme Court will be swayed to rule against the constitutionality of joint voting by the constituent assembly to approve charter amendments.

“This scenario assumes that there is a significant citizen outrage, which will be considered by the Supreme Court Justices even if they were appointed by President Arroyo,” said Corazon “Dinky” Soliman, a former member of the Arroyo Cabinet.

Eleven of the 13 sitting Supreme Court justices were appointed by President Arroyo. She will soon be naming two more justices to the High Court.

But on the other hand, protest leaders said the absence of a public outrage will embolden congressmen to go ahead with charter change.

Administration allies have dismissed the failed ouster moves against President Arroyo in the past as a sign of a weak opposition. Despite the major scandals that have hit the Arroyo government—from “Hello Garci” in 2005 to the NBN-ZTE deal in 2007—the opposition has failed to gather a critical mass that would lead to “people power.”

Various scenarios

Various scenarios have been floated since the approval of HR 1109. Two themes prevail: President Arroyo will stay in power through a shift in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary system, or, she will declare martial law.

These scenarios are based on assumptions that Arroyo is determined to stay in power, and that she has power to make two key institutions—the Supreme Court and the Armed Forces of the Philippines —follow her bidding.

Proponents of HR 1109 have dismissed these as mere speculations, although they themselves cannot give a straight answer on what they intend to approve after convening the constituent assembly. House Speaker Prospero Nograles has admitted there are “legal disagreements” among the pro-Charter change leaders.

“I am not going to convene anything. We need the [recess] period for consultations with House and Senate leaders and other sectors to get a clear picture of what to do next. Frankly,we are still in a legal disagreement as to the procedures to follow after approval of HB 1109. I therefore need to clear the air as to the legal procedure,” he said.

Objective: SC ruling

Some HR 1109 proponents have said they only wanted to create a “justiciable controversy” so that the Supreme Court can settle the ambiguity in the 1987 Constitution on whether Congress, convened as a constituent assembly to amend the charter, should vote jointly or separately.

Others, however, like Nueva Ecija Rep. Rodolfo Antonino, have been talking about possible amendments like a shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government.

Nevertheless, Antonino belied allegations that HR 1109 is meant to extend President Arroyo’s term.

“They (charger change critics) are trying to sow fear among our people so much so that these people will close their minds, and because they fear it so much, there will be no dialogue on HR 1109,” added Antonino, one of the sponsors of HR 1109.

Term extension scenarios

Meanwhile, compiled the term extension scenarios that have been floated since the approval of HR 1109.

Scenario 1: Shift to a parliamentary system

The House of Representatives will convene a constituent assembly and proceed to amend the Constitution without the Senate. They will approve a change in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary, and lift the restrictions on foreign capital enshrined in the charter. They will then ask the Commission on Elections to hold a plebiscite. A case will subsequently be filed before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court approves the actions taken by a Senate-less constituent assembly, the plebiscite proceeds, and the administration makes sure the amendments are ratified by the people. Instead of presidential elections, parliamentary elections will be held in 2010. President Arroyo runs for a parliamentary seat in Pampanga, wins, and is chosen as prime minister.

Scenario 2: Senators cooperate

The House of Representatives will convene a constituent assembly with some administration senators. Although the senators who will join the constituent assembly will not be enough to meet the three-fourths vote requirement in separate voting (18 senators), their presence will somehow “legitimize the process.”

The charter amendments approved by the constituent assembly are then subjected to a plebiscite. The Comelec and the Supreme Court go along with the actions taken by the constituent assembly.

Scenario 3: Martial Law

The House of Representatives convenes a constituent assembly without the participation of the Senate. There will be street actions, but violent incidents organized by elements against democracy take place. President Arroyo will then have a basis to declare martial law.

Commenting on scenario three, Soliman said this can happen if the protests are not organized. “It [martial law] will make us vulnerable to infiltration and manipulation. When we act, we must be organized,” she said.

Scenario 4: Shift after Elections

The House of Representatives convenes as a constituent assembly, a case is filed before the Supreme Court, but the process takes so long that it is overtaken by the 2010 elections. Charter change fails.

Nevertheless, Mrs. Arroyo runs for and wins a congressional seat in Pampanga. But as soon as the 15th Congress is convened in 2010, charter change is approved, and there is an immediate shift in the form of government from presidential to parliamentary.

Congresswoman Arroyo becomes Prime Minister.


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