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Con-ass petitions junked

Challenge premature, SC rules

By Inquirer Staff
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:26:00 06/17/2009

Filed Under: Charter change, Congress, Judiciary (system of justice), Protest, Politics

MANILA, Philippines?The Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that a challenge to a move by the House of Representatives to convene a Senate-less constituent assembly (Con-ass) was premature, prompting lawmakers to buckle down to make the event happen and institute revisions in the Constitution.

?The House has not yet performed a positive act that would warrant an intervention from this Court,? the high tribunal said in an eight-page unanimous resolution throwing out petitions by lawyer Oliver Lozano and businessman Louis Biraogo.

The court said the petitioners had no standing to question House Resolution No. 1109 and brushed off their claim that they were taxpayers. The tribunal said that no tax money had yet been spent for the planned exercise.

While saying that it had taken a liberal position in entertaining questions of law from those who claim to suffer personal injury from state acts, it declared that ?it is not an open invitation for the ignorant and the ignoble to file petitions that prove nothing but their cerebral deficit.?

The ruling penned by Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that HR 1109 only resolved that the Lower House ?shall convene at a future time for the purpose of proposing amendments or revisions to the Constitution.?

?In short, House Resolution No. 1109 involves a quintessential example of an uncertain contingent future event that may not occur as anticipated, or indeed may not occur at all,? it said.

?When warranted by the presence of indispensable minimums for judicial review, this court shall not shun the duty to resolve the constitutional challenge that may confront it,? the tribunal said.

House allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo have declared that they would convene the constituent assembly immediately after she delivers her State of the Nation Address on July 27.


House Speaker Prospero Nograles said that the court decision was ?legally anticipated.?

?There will be a justiciable issue only when Con-ass is actually convened and proposed specific amendments are made,? said Nograles, who likened the petitions with the protest rallies against the assembly.

?It?s like all the rallies and protests the opposition and the bishops are making. It?s all just political noise and it?s all premature,? he said in a text message to reporters.

Nograles said he would hold consultations with House leaders, party heads and whips shortly before the session opens next month to discuss their next moves.

He said that the House would either send individual invitations to senators or lure them in by putting the federalism bill of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. as one of the agenda in the Con-ass.

Even if the Senate snubbed its invitation, Nograles said the 265-member House would convene a Con-ass just to create a justiciable cause.

Petition designed to fail

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said he was confident that the court would trash the initiative, pointing out that a Con-ass with the two chambers voting jointly and not separately, which meant the House alone could constitute a majority vote, was ?illegal and unconstitutional.?

?The petition was obviously designed to fail so that its dismissal can be used to justify Arroyo?s allies next move, which is the immediate convening of a constituent assembly,? said Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Teodoro Casiño

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said he expected the court ruling. ?That?s why the Senate did not move against it.?

Enrile said that the House could not use the federalism bill filed last year by Pimentel to compel senators to attend the assembly, saying the Senate had not even acted on it. ?So, they can?t use that.?

Pimentel said he was willing to put his federalism bill in the back burner ?if only to foil an administration plan to use it as a jumping board for lifting the term limit of elective public officials, including President Arroyo.?

Sen. Richard Gordon told reporters said he did not think senators would fall for the House?s ?desperate? bid to compel senators to attend the Con-ass by dangling Pimentel?s federalism bill.

Legal moves

Sen. Manuel ?Mar? Roxas II said that the Senate legal panel was ?now preparing for the time when there was justiciable cause for the high court to look into the House resolution.?

Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson called for a ?tax revolt? to force proponents of Charter change to abandon their plans.

?Aside from being a protest move, this would ensure that our taxes will be safe from the propensity of officials of this administration to perpetuate themselves to power by dipping their hands into government coffers,? Lacson said.

Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III shrugged off Lacson?s call as nothing more than ?political posturing.?

?We know this is political season so we have to be very tolerant with political statements,? he said.

Bello welcomed the court decision, saying that ?there is no justiciable issue yet.? With reports from Norman Bordadora, Gil C. Cabacungan Jr., Leila B. Salaverria, Christine O. Avendaño and TJ Burgonio

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