Defensor, NPC may withdraw support for Con-ass

Two congressmen, including the secretary-general of the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), are reconsidering their support for House Resolution (HR) 1109 convening Congress into a constituent assembly (Con-ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution without the participation of the Senate.

Administration ally Quezon City Rep. Matias Defensor on Thursday said he is rethinking his position on HR 1109.

“Walang presyong makakatapat sa pagkakaisa ng bayan. Kung tayo ay magkakagulo rin lang, ako mismo ay i-aatras ko ang aking prima sa HR 1109 and push for Constitutional Convention,” he said in a press conference in Quezon City.

“Up to now, I am for a constituent assembly for the amendment of the charter. But as I said, kung magkakagulo, I might change my position for a Constitutional Convention,” he added.

Defensor said he doesn't agree that a constituent assembly can approve charter amendments without the three-fourths vote of the Senate or 18 senators. He said he signed HR 1109 "with reservations," which means he supported the rationale on the need to get a ruling of the Supreme Court on the validity of joint voting by the constituent assembly.

Price too high?

Rizal Rep. Michael John Duavit, secretary-general of Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), expressed the same sentiments on Wednesday.

“Personally, in my view, given the public sentiment, the justiciable issue is not worth pursuing. They're making it appear that someone wants to satisfy their curiosity. I think the price is too high to satisfy their curiosity,” he told House reporters in the weekly Ayes and Nayes Forum.

The NPC, a coalition ally of the administration, supported HR 1109 with the assurance from House Speaker Prospero Nograles that the reason for passing the measure is to force a justiciable controversy and get a ruling from the Supreme Court on whether the constituent assembly should vote jointly or separately.

If Duavit can influence his fellow NPC congressmen to rethink their position on HR 1109, more congressmen may withdraw support for HR 1109. The NPC has 30 congressmen in the House of Representatives.

“The stand of NPC is clear. We would not support any moves to amend the charter before 2010. The Speaker knows that. Right now, I take the Speaker's word. He gave us assurances that they will respect our decision to respect our senators,” Duavit said.

Senators Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero belong to NPC. Both are presidential aspirants.

Tarlac Rep. Monica Prieto-Teodoro, wife of presidential aspirant Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, have also withdrawn their support for HR1109.

Nationwide protests

Public outrage against HR 1109 was immediate.

The day after the approval on June 2, militant groups, civil society, businessmen, students and local churches already held protests against HR 1109.

On June 10, they joined forces to show their numbers by holding a big rally in Makati City and in other key cities nationwide.

They said Wednesday's anti-con-ass rally in Makati was just the "opening salvo" of a series of protests leading up to President Arroyo's State of the Nation Address (SONA) in July.

Nograles earlier said they may convene the constituent assembly after President Arroyo's SONA.

Police estimated the crowd in Makati City at 5,000. It was smaller than previous rallies because others opted to lead protests outside Manila, including Dagupan, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, and Davao City.

The call for protests against a constituent assembly was supported by the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

CBCP President and Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo led the protests at the Iloilo Provincial Capitol grounds. News reports said that around 2,000 protesters joined.

Testing waters

However, since protests against President Arroyo have so far failed to generate a critical mass that could trigger another "people power" and threaten the government, it has dismissed these rallies as signs of a weak opposition.

Senator Francis Escudero has said the approval of House Resolution 1109 is the administration’s “trial balloon” to see if there would be significant public outrage against Charter change.

If there is none, Escudero said the administration will be emboldened to railroad the measure.

A source close to President Arroyo and to the movers of HR 1109 in the House of Representatives used another metaphor. He said it was also meant to “test waters” in the Supreme Court.

If more congressmen will join Defensor and Duavit in rethinking their positions, it could prevent the administration from gathering the necessary vote to approve any amendment to the Constitution.

Merged party’s act

On June 2, the House of Representatives defied public opinion and approved after only five hours of deliberation HR 1109, a resolution that calls for the convening of a constituent assembly to amend the charter through joint voting by both houses of Congress.

As opposed to separate voting, the numerically dominant House of Representatives (265 votes) can meet the three-fourths vote requirement (216 votes) to approve a constitutional amendment without the help of a single senator. The Senate currently has 23 members.

Short of admitting that there was a marching order from President Arroyo to approve the resolution, the source said the “audience” of the congressmen, when they voted for the resolution, was President Arroyo.

These congressmen don't care about the national sentiment because they don't need a national constituency to win in their districts, the source added.

Nograles said the approval of HR 1109 was on the “agenda” of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD—the merger of the ruling party Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) and President Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi). President Arroyo is the chairman of the merged party.

The approval of HR 1109, which happened five days after the merger, was one of the first official acts of the merged party.

When session convened on June 2, a total of 211 members were present. But according to records of the House of Representatives Journal Division, there were 42 more members who arrived after the roll was called. This raised attendance to 253.

Earlier in the afternoon of June 2, the majority coalition held a caucus where they agreed to approve HR 1109 that night. Nograles even instructed the members of the majority to not interpellate anymore. If at all, the majority may be credited for allowing the members of the minority to voice out their arguments against the resolution.


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