The move of the son of President Gloria Arroyo and her Kampi party-mates and allies in the House of Representatives to ram what is nothing more than a “presidential” resolution calling for a convening of a “constituent assembly” to amend the Constitution deserves the most serious objection from members of the legal profession and the people. This sudden push for charter change is nothing more than an attempt to extend the term of office of President Arroyo who is obsessed with fear of being sent to prison once her term ends in 2010 for crimes against the Filipino people.
BY THE NATIONAL UNION OF PEOPLE’S LAWYERS (NUPL)
Posted by Bulatlat
The move of the son of President Gloria Arroyo and her Kampi party-mates and allies in the House of Representatives to ram what is nothing more than a “presidential” resolution calling for a convening of a “constituent assembly” to amend the Constitution deserves the most serious objection from members of the legal profession and the people. This sudden push for charter change is nothing more than an attempt to extend the term of office of President Arroyo who is obsessed with fear of being sent to prison once her term ends in 2010 for crimes against the Filipino people. The latest attempt to change the Constitution is very serious considering the assumption Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who once filed Senate Resolution No. 580 calling for charter change through a “constituent assembly”, to the office of the Senate President. The plan to convene the House through a Senate-less constituent assembly is now backed up by a possibility that the Enrile-led Senate may legitimize charter change through “con-ass”. It must be stressed that Senator Enrile’s Resolution 580 did not contradict the “senate-less con-ass” proposed by the House but was “deafeningly silent” on the mode of convening the con-ass. The assertion by the presidential son and President Arroyo’s allies that term extension is not in the agenda is misleading because some resolutions being tackled in the House actually proposes extension of the president’s term, the elimination of term limits and the postponement of the 2010 elections. Furthermore, a constituent assembly is a distinct body from Congress tasked with proposing amendments to the Constitution, and can, therefore, insert term extension once convened.
The economic crisis will definitely exacerbate if charter change pushes through because the holding of a plebiscite in 2009 will entail the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pesos by a Comelec (Commission on Elections) which does not even have the budget to hold recall elections, nor the resources to fund the automated 2010 elections. Charter change will not only contravene the will of the people in order to satisfy the self-serving interest of President Arroyo to stay in power beyond 2010, but worse , it will entail massive amounts of expenditures from tax payers money, courtesy of the impoverished Filipino nation.
Term extension and other self-serving proposals in House Resolutions
The pending House resolutions propose many amendments which are completely self serving not only for Pres. Arroyo but for members of the House as well. House Resolution 550 directly proposes the extension of term of President Arroyo and all other elective officials and the postponement of the 2010 elections to June 30, 2011. Another resolution proposes the elimination of the current term limits and another resolution for the expansion of the term of congressmen to four years instead of three years all of which betray the real intent of charter change—perpetuation in power. The proposal of House Resolution 14 taking away the Supreme Court’s judicial power to intervene in cases of grave abuse of discretion under Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution is an attempt by President Arroyo to ensure a weak and helpless judiciary that cannot be a forum to “restrain” her abuses.
Constituent assembly: a powerful body that can extend terms and perpetuate President Arroyo.
It is expected that Congress will choose the self-serving mode of constituent assembly since it gives the very members who want to change the Constitution the power to draft the specific amendments. Assurances that the Constituent Assembly will not be “authorized” to extend the term of President Arroyo are not only misleading but are self-serving assurances that has no credibility. The “Constituent Assembly”, once constituted is a different constitutional entity from Congress and is therefore not bound by any congressional resolution, much less by “assurances” from certain individual congressmen. The Constituent Assembly, because it has the power to propose amendments to the Constitution, is, therefore, not subservient to a mere legislative body. It is clear from Section 1, Article IX that the constituent assembly is empowered to “revise” the Constitution. This means that it can amend or overhaul the Charter and is, therefore, logically empowered to extend the term of President Arroyo or allow her to run again in 2010.
Members of the House are warned from joining the bandwagon being generated by Malacañang for charter change. Charter change that will perpetuate President Arroyo’s power and eliminate the protectionist economic policies in the Constitution could result in a violent upheaval in the country. The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Congress should, instead of rushing the process, conduct consultations with the people especially in the light of the known and admitted resistance of the people to charter change. In fact, it should rather focus on the impeachment complaint and allow the people enough opportunities to present their case against President Arroyo for electoral fraud, human rights violations and graft and corruption.
The NUPL is seriously concerned by the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments’ withdrawal of its previous decision to hold four public consultations in Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao on the need for charter change. Unless it holds transparent hearings accessible to the people, no amount of Committee hearings in the House will justify any decision of the Committee. The people have previously spoken against charter change and it is the burden of presidential allies in the House to prove that the people are now supportive of charter change. The claim by certain congressmen that there is no need to consult their constituents because they were voted representatives of the people is not only the height of arrogance but is absolutely misleading since they were voted to pass or amend laws but not to amend the Constitution. The failure of members of both houses of Congress to consult the people on “cha-cha” will cause an upheaval and the House will once again reap the wrath of an outraged populace. It will only expose the subservience of the legislators to President Gloria Arroyo who, together with the US, is the main beneficiary of charter change so that she can perpetuate herself in power through the deletion of the “one-term” limit in Article VII of the Constitution. There is no compelling need to change the Constitution today. There is, however, a compelling need to ensure that President Arroyo steps down from office on or before 2010.
Reference: Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares, NUPL Secretary-General