MANILA, Philippines?Multisectoral groups are outraged by the passage in the House of Representatives of a resolution that could pave the way for Charter change (Cha-cha) and serve as a ?prelude to an Arroyo dictatorship.?
The groups, which included the United Opposition (UNO), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Kilusang Mayo Uno, Gabriela, Kabataan, Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, Pagbabago! movement, Artists Revolution and the FPJ movement, gathered yesterday at the Makati City Hall to organize protest actions starting next week against the passage of House Resolution No. 1109.
Former Sen. Franklin Drilon said: ?I expected it. The President doesn?t want to step down in 2010. I expect her to do anything to stay in power.?
Drilon, who chairs the Liberal Party, added: ?They have to do it now. Having a parliamentary election is consistent with all they?re doing. That is to ensure her continued stay as Prime Minister in a parliamentary system of government.?
?They said elections are pushing through. A parliamentary election is an election,? he said.
The resolution calls for the convening of a constituent assembly (Con-ass) with the House and the Senate voting jointly on amendments to the 1987 Constitution.
?We call on the people, on people?s organizations and the opposition to unite to oppose and defeat this antidemocratic and self-serving move on the part of Malacañang and its cohorts in the House of Representatives,? said a joint statement signed by personalities like Makati Mayor and United Opposition (UNO) president Jejomar Binay, Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza, NBN-ZTE whistle-blower Jun Lozada and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general Renato Reyes.
The groups claimed that HR 1109 was intended ?to strengthen? President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s ?hold on the reins of power either through term extension, a shift to parliamentary system or any other underhanded device.?
?Paid hacks of Ms Arroyo will deny what we, who have strong memories of the Marcos years, know for sure: HR 1109 is a prelude to an Arroyo dictatorship. We vowed ?never again? after martial law. Never again, indeed,? they said.
Binay said the opposition groups had a basis to depict such a scenario and that they were not merely being ?paranoid? or creating fear by saying that a dictatorship was in the offing.
?This is not a fairy tale. This is historical; this has precedence,? he said, adding that Charter change could serve as the ?tipping point? that would finally anger the people and push them into action.
Reyes called on the public to let their sentiments be known by joining noise barrages starting Thursday until the mass protests next week.
He also called on aspirants to elective posts to join forces with the public in resisting ?Gloria?s Cha-cha at Con-ass.?
Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, called on the people to ?do something? about HR 1109.
?What happened [Tuesday] night, it?s like [the House majority] betrayed the people. When power corrupts, it corrupts absolutely. I hope the people would pray too and do something against this hasty plan to change the Charter,? Lagdameo said in comments posted on the CBCP website.
?I am praying that [Charter change] will not happen. I am praying that they will not succeed,? he said.
The CBCP maintains that any move to amend the 1987 Constitution should be done after the 2010 presidential election, and through a constitutional convention with duly elected delegates.
Basilan Bishop Martin Jumoad warned that the railroading of a Con-ass ?could trigger mass protests and lead to the fall of President Arroyo.?
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes denounced the move by the President?s allies as ?immoral.?
?For me, this act of Congress is immoral. It is self-serving and is clearly contrary to the will of the people,? he said, alluding to rumors that administration lawmakers were out to lift term limits on elective officials to allow themselves and Ms Arroyo to run again for office.
Military officers detained for allegedly attempting to overthrow the Arroyo administration warned that a blatant disregard of constitutional procedures might lead to civil unrest.
?Our people deserve to have clean and honest elections in 2010 under the 1987 Constitution, and we must remain vigilant that they get it,? Marine Col. Ariel Querubin said through his spokesperson Martin Loon.
Querubin, who is facing rebellion charges, announced last month that he would seek a Senate seat next year.
Capt. Ruben Guinolbay said through his friends that ?it would be sad if the Armed Forces will turn a blind eye [on the railroaded resolution] and let what?s left of its reputation be soiled beyond redemption.?
But the military spokesperson, Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr., said the military saw no indication that what happened at the House on Tuesday night was stoking unrest among its soldiers.
?Our intelligence reports find no groups in the military that are most likely to create a semblance of chaos arising from this move in [Congress],? he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo, general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Brawner also said there were no orders from the military or police leadership to augment security in detention camps holding jailed soldiers facing coup and rebellion charges.
But just the same, security forces remain on their toes for renegade soldiers who might try to disrupt the government in view of the passage of HR 1109, he said.
Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a key framer of the 1987 Constitution, said the hasty passage of HR 1109 was for naught as Congress was already considered a constituent assembly ?with or without? it.
Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, also echoed observations made by legislators themselves that efforts to amend the Charter at this point would fail for lack of time and funds.
In a morning interview with radio dzBB, Bernas, the dean emeritus of Ateneo de Manila Law School, chastised the House majority for ?toying with the Constitution and the people.?
In a later interview with ANC cable television, he accused the congressmen of dismissing the Senate as a coequal in a bicameral legislative body.
?You cannot exclude the Senate ? Congress consists of two Houses. The House cannot say ?we are Congress? because Congress is the House and the Senate,? Bernas said.
?With or without the resolution, Congress can propose amendments to the Constitution. That resolution is actually useless,? he said.
While Bernas initially said on dzBB that the public should react with outrage to the action of the House majority, he said in a later interview that a peaceful forum might make the lawmakers realize the folly of their deed.
?Let?s just do it peacefully, I guess, but I think it is very important for us to explain where we [stand],? Bernas told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).
In the ANC interview, Bernas warned congressmen against using the Supreme Court for forum shopping.
Since the hastily passed resolution does not change anything at this point, ?there is nothing to bring to the Supreme Court,? he said, adding:
?The Supreme Court can only take up actual controversies involving conflict of rights.?
Besides, if the House drags the Commission on Elections into the fray by asking it to schedule a plebiscite, there is simply no more time and money for this, he added.
At a press conference, Sen. Francis Pangilinan warned of the people?s anger if Malacañang and its allies in the House pushed through with the Con-ass.
Asked why the administration would risk the wrath of the people, Pangilinan said the Arroyo administration was ?blinded by power and ambition? and ?out of touch with reality.?
?This is unbelievable. The country is at a pivotal point, and everyone is gearing up for the 2010 elections. While we are eager to welcome changes that are sure to come after the presidential election, the passing of the House-only Con-ass bill changes everything,? he said.
Bicycle with 1 wheel
HR 1109 is weak on paper, but there is no telling how the Arroyo administration will use it to suit its own ends, according to opposition lawmakers in the House.
?We fear nothing from the resolution itself,? Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño said at the Ayes and Nays forum. ?What we are afraid of is how it would be interpreted by the administration to ram through its agenda. So even if there is a weak basis, they would use it to begin introducing amendments to the Constitution.?
Casiño said the resolution was weak because it only expressed the sentiment of the House.
?HR 1109 ? is like a bicycle with only one wheel in the middle of the desert. Even if you use it, it will get you nowhere. To be useful, it still needs a second wheel (the Senate) and a map and a compass (an amendment proposal),? he said.
House Deputy Minority Leader Satur Ocampo said the administration lawmakers erred in ramming the Con-ass vote through because it would reflect badly on the merged Lakas-Kampi-CMD political party.
?The most important element here is the reaction of the public. [The administration] should not make the mistake of convening the Con-ass. It would be political suicide,? Ocampo said. With reports from Michael Lim Ubac, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Jocelyn R. Uy and Leila B. Salaverria