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Arroyo son leads Charter change bid

150 solons sign on for constituent assembly

By Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:58:00 11/21/2008

Filed Under: Charter change, Congress, Politics

MANILA, Philippines?A move to amend the Constitution through a constituent assembly is gathering steam in the House of Representatives with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s eldest child leading the signature drive.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel ?Mikey? Arroyo?s campaign has secured between 120 and 150 signatures on a resolution calling on the Senate and the House to amend the Constitution by voting jointly and not separately, according to Iloilo Rep. Raul Gonzalez Jr.

?I was approached by Congressman Mikey last week when I just arrived at the session hall. He requested that I sign and when I looked at the papers, this was about Charter change through a constituent assembly,? Gonzalez said in an interview.

?Since this was being supported by the administration coalition ? I had no hesitation and signed the resolution,? he said.

Curiously, Gonzalez and other administration solons who signed the bill do not have a copy of the resolution.

A senior congressman, who requested anonymity, claimed that there was only one copy of the resolution passed around.

He said the signatories were told that once the measure secured the required number of votes, it would be used to force the Supreme Court to rule on how the Con-ass should vote to amend the Constitution.

But Gonzalez said that he would not know whether the group could hit the ?magic number? of 196 signatures, which represent the two-third votes of the combined membership of the Senate (23) and the House (238).

Mikey Arroyo did not respond to text messages from the Philippine Daily Inquirer seeking his comment.

?From the information that I have gathered, the administration has already 160 congressmen who have signed for an amendment to the Constitution by way of a constituent assembly,? Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said Thursday.

?That?s dangerous,? said Binay, head of the United Opposition who has announced plans to run as president.

?We should all remain vigilant and always be on guard. We might wake one morning that there will be no more election under the presidential-type of government in 2010,? he told a fraternity gathering in Lucena City.

If Mikey Arroyo?s campaign succeeds, the House should win the battle in its own backyard since the majority of senators would most likely reject single voting, Gonzalez said.

Nograles initiative

There are three pending bills in the House calling for Charter change, but only one authored by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez specifically moved to convene Congress into a constituent assembly. But he said he had withdrawn his bill filed in May.

The other bills by Representatives Victor Ortega (La Union) and Edelmiro Amante (Agusan del Norte) call for a constitutional convention.

The senior congressman said Mikey Arroyo?s initiative was running on a separate but parallel track with the signature drive being led by Speaker Prospero Nograles for his bill seeking to amend the Constitution ostensibly to allow foreign investors equal access as domestic investors to land and natural resources.

Nograles Thursday confirmed that 163 out of 238 members of the House members had come on board indicating the strong disposition of the majority of the lower chamber to amend the Charter.

Anything goes in assembly

Once a Con-ass is convened, any change to the Constitution could be introduced, including scrapping the upcoming presidential election and keeping Ms Arroyo in power, lawmakers have said.

That?s why Press Secretary Jesus Dureza?s prayer at Tuesday?s Cabinet meeting wishing that Ms Arroyo remain in Malacañang ?beyond? 2010 has provoked a firestorm in opposition circles that saw it as a signal of the administration?s intention.

Their fears are being fueled by the quick dismissal in Congress of the impeachment complaint against Ms Arroyo, expected in the next two weeks, and the installation of Juan Ponce Enrile, a staunch administration ally, as Senate president.

Nueva Ecija Rep. Eduardo Nonato Joson concurred that Enrile?s rise had ?energized? the administration?s move to change the Charter.

?But it would still be an uphill battle for Congress to obtain the three-fourths vote to change the Constitution,? Joson said.

Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, however, said he did not expect Enrile to change the Senate?s disposition to defer Charter change until after Ms Arroyo?s term.

?The majority of senators, both administration and opposition, are opposed to Charter change and that has not changed,? Gonzales said.

One stumbling block, however, is the reluctance of the Liberal Party and the Nationalist People?s Coalition, key members of Ms Arroyo?s rainbow alliance, to extend her term.

Regardless of whoever sits as Senate president, moves to change the Charter has always been the goal of the House since the 12th Congress, Nograles said.

On Oct. 25, 2006, the Supreme Court voted 8-7 to dismiss the Malacañang-backed ?people?s initiative? to amend the Constitution to pave the way for a parliamentary system, saying the proponents? signature campaign was nothing more than a ?grand deception.?
Pangasinan Rep. Jose De Venecia Jr., who broke away from the President and was subsequently ousted as House speaker in a campaign initiated by Ms Arroyo?s sons earlier this year, Thursday expressed concern that she would pack the 15-member Supreme Court with her allies when seven magistrates retire next year.

De Venecia feared appointing justices loyal to Ms Arroyo would be linked to her plan to amend the Constitution and extend her term.

?Like martial law?

?There?s a relationship of some sort. In other words, she?d choose someone who will be malleable,? De Venecia said in a phone patch interview with reporters when asked if he thought Ms Arroyo?s choices for justices was linked to her desire to amend the Charter.

He also noted that filling the Supreme Court with friendly justices was a practice not only in the Philippines but also in the United States.

?Let?s hope the appointments to the Supreme Court will elevate themselves and think of the country and not loyalty to the appointing power,? De Venecia said.

Bohol Rep. Adam Jala earlier petitioned the Supreme Court to allow the two chambers to vote jointly on constitutional amendments, but it was thrown out for being premature.

Commission on Elections Chair Jose Melo Thursday said he would resign if the Constitution was amended to postpone the 2010 elections. ?We won?t have anything to do because that would be like martial law.?

The commission is preparing for the upcoming balloting using computerized voting machines that seek to eliminate fraud and result in a faster vote count. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria, Kristine L. Alave and Delfin T. Mallari, Inquirer Southern Luzon

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