THE HEAT is on Speaker Prospero Nograles. And he is sweating because he could not produce 196 signatures to support the resolution authored principally by Representative Luis Villafuerte calling for Charter change (Cha-cha) via a constituent assembly (con-ass). Implicit is the unspoken undertone that the con-ass would eventually install the parliamentary system.
June 6 extension. Before the onset of the Holy Week, Nograles promised to file the resolution formally in the House of Representatives so that it could be publicly scrutinized. However, not having succeeded in getting the 196 signatures, all that he could do – after Congress resumed its sessions early this week – was to award himself an extension of up to June 6, the end of the congressional session, within which to move the process and get the required support.
The proponents believe – wrongly, in my humble view – that the signatures of 196 congressmen, even without the participation of a single senator, are enough to comply with the constitutional requirement of three-fourths vote “of all the members of Congress” to pass constitutional amendments.
(Parenthetically, I wonder why Nograles fixed the number at “197.” Currently, there are 238 congressmen and 23 senators or a total of 261 “members of Congress.” Three-fourths of 261 is 195.75. This can be rounded off to 196.)
A congressman present during the House leadership caucus last April 14 told me that the resolution has only 178 signatures; thus, it needs at least 18 more. Despite their best efforts during the last six months, the proponents still failed to get 196 signatures. Why?
Let us analyze. Of the 238 incumbent congressmen, 89 belong to the Lakas Party, 52 to Kampi, 30 to the Nationalist People’s Coalition, 20 to the Liberal Party, 10 to the Nacionalista Party and the rest are distributed among the LDP, PMP, PDSP, PDP-Laban and Uno. Also included were 22 partylist representatives and two independents. Except for the partylists, party affiliations were volatile and change every day.
Disparate ruling coalition. Since most of the parties belong to the ruling coalition, one will expect all their members to support the resolution hatched by their leaders. But no such solidarity exists. For instance, Representatives Jose de Venecia and Edcel Lagman, both of Lakas, have made it plain that they would oppose Charter change not only in the House but also in the Supreme Court. The same is true of NPC’s Darlene Antonino-Custodio and Abraham Mitra.
Consider too that many congressmen are already committed to their favorite presidential candidates; the NPCs to Chiz Escudero or Loren Legarda; the LPs to Mar Roxas and the NPs to Manny Villar. They do not want Cha-cha now because it will derail the May 10, 2010 presidential elections.
Also, Representative Jack Duavit, the suave NPC secretary general, told me during a dinner two weeks ago that his party’s preferred Cha-cha mode was the constitutional convention, not the con-ass.
He stressed that while many NPC members including him have signed the resolution as a courtesy to Nograles, they reserved their right to contest specific amendments that might be proposed once the con-ass would be convened.
Duavit added that the NPC would oppose a “House-only” con-ass. “We cannot ignore our colleagues in the Senate. The three-fourths majority required by the Constitution should be obtained in both the House and the Senate, voting separately.”
Ditto for the Liberals and the Nacionalistas. For its part, the Palace confessed its alleged “helplessness.” Instead of supporting Cha-cha, it is supposedly focused only on the 2010 elections. Based on these disparities and pronouncements, the con-ass is hopeless.
By this time, the proponents know that the Cha-cha is dead. Only the Palace can resurrect it with patronage, arm-twisting and other unconventional methods of persuasion. And even if the 196 signatures are obtained, not all signatories as above explained would ignore the Senate. That is why I think there is only one way for Cha-cha to succeed – by railroading it with Malacañang’s grease.
Cha-cha railroad. How? Once the 196 signatures are obtained, the proponents will immediately forward the resolution to and compel the Commission on Elections to set the plebiscite pronto. The railroad option explains why the goal is 196 signatures. If the only aim is to discuss Charter change and not to install the parliamentary system, why wait for the 196? After all, only a simple majority is needed to convene a con-ass but 196 are necessary to approve the parliamentary target.
This is exactly how the House impeached President Joseph Estrada. After the constitutionally required signatures were obtained, then Speaker Manuel Villar speedily forwarded the Articles of Impeachment to the Senate without any discussion and formal voting.
Once this happens, the senators and the militants will immediately run to the Supreme Court. This will put the Court to a litmus test. Will it stamp its imprimatur to such a mockery of our Constitution?
It will also trigger massive protests. Considering the latest First Quarter 2009 SWS survey showing that 66 percent of Pinoys oppose Charter change, expect piercing rallies and demos that will dwarf the Bangkok “red shirts.”
In sum, Cha-cha is dead but it can resurrect if the Palace actively intervenes and greases the railroad. Surely such ploy will enrage the people. By greasing the hated Cha-cha express, the Palace will ram the economy and risk people power, mutinies and armed rebellions.
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