MANILA, December 21, 2005
 (STAR) Malacañang expressed support yesterday to the House of Representatives in its plan to push through with amending the 1987 Constitution even without Senate concurrence.

Palace officials stressed yesterday the need to implement constitutional reform for the good of the country.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye also chided some lawmakers for "overreacting" to the recommendation made by the 55-member presidential consultative commission (con-com) to scrap the 2007 elections and extend the terms of all incumbent officials.

The con-com made the proposal in an effort to smoothen the transition to a unicameral parliamentary system and save billions of pesos in government funds.

Bunye said the political opposition was treating members of the con-com "unfairly."

"Nobody is forcing upon Congress the proposals that are embodied in the con-com’s final output," Bunye said, referring to the report submitted by the commission to President Arroyo last week.

"We see no reason to turn one issue, such as the no-election proposal, into a propaganda blitz against the administration," he said.

Bunye said the con-com proposals were presented as a framework for further debate.

"The issue here is for us, the entire nation and its political institutions, to come up with the best measures to shape and elevate the political and economic future of the Philippines," he said.

Opposition leaders alleged the proposal to scrap the 2007 elections was meant to "bribe" politicians to support Charter change and to allow Mrs. Arroyo’s political allies to maintain their grip on power without the benefit of an election.

They said these proposed provisions would give the President more powers as an interim parliament would be set up from 2007 to 2010 wherein she would have "supervision and direction" over the interim Prime Minister.

Bunye said it is the prerogative of the House to undertake a legal procedure in accordance with what it deems as proper to hasten the implementation of Charter reforms.

The House leadership on Monday said it is ready to go ahead in amending the Constitution even without the support of the Senate that has been cold to Charter change moves.

Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Constantino Jaraula, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said the ideal thing would be for senators to agree to the House resolution asking the two chambers of Congress to convene as a constituent assembly to propose constitutional amendments.

Jaraula said lawmakers would have no choice but to meet as a constituent assembly with the expected participation of at least three senators if the Senate refuses to agree to the resolution.

Jaraula pointed out the House would only need 195 votes, or three-fourths of the combined membership of the two legislative chambers of 260 legislators — 236 congressmen and 24 senators — to propose Charter changes.

He claimed the vote would satisfy the constitutional requirement that proposed constitutional amendments be approved by Congress through a three-fourths vote of all its members.

Leave it to their discretion

Asked whether Malacañang explicitly supports the House move to go it alone, Bunye said they are only speaking "in general terms" on the need to implement political reforms as soon as possible.

"But as to the specifics and the mode, we will leave that to the sound discretion and collective wisdom of Congress," he said.

"Of course in the process, we meet some resistance (to the move of the House) but I don’t think anybody can stop the House in pushing through with it," Bunye said.

Leaders of the House and the Senate were urged yesterday to resolve their differences on Cha-cha through dialogue.

As an alternative, Representatives Mauricio Domogan of Baguio City and Exequiel Javier of Antique proposed that Mrs. Arroyo should convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac) to enable congressional leaders to arrive at an agreement over the administration’s Cha-cha initiative.

Now that the con-com has submitted its proposals for constitutional reforms, Cha-cha is now in the hands of both senators and congressmen, Domogan and Javier said in a joint statement.

But the two congressmen said they would prefer that the Senate and the House consider all the con-com’s suggestions, including the scrapping of the 2007 elections and the extension of terms of elected officials.

"Once we convene (as a constituent assembly), we can decide what amendments to tackle and we should include the con-com report in arriving at a decision since this is a product of public consultations and debates," they added.

The con-com proposal to scrap the May 2007 elections gave senators one more reason to oppose Cha-cha.

Senate President Franklin Drilon said the proposal is immoral and constitutes unabashed bribery of members of Congress and local officials so they would support and campaign for Cha-cha.

"The mandate of the elected officials is up to 2007, so elections should be held," Drilon said.

Drilon, along with several senators, is now serving his second and last term, which expires on June 30, 2007.

If coming elections were scrapped as con-com has proposed, he would stay on until June 30, 2010.

‘Illegitimate parliament members’

A ranking con-com member, however, justified the proposal to scrap the 2007 elections.

San Fernando City Mayor Oscar Rodriguez, the con-com vice chairman for Luzon, claimed the proposal reflected the sentiments of most elected officials.

However, Rodriguez admitted the proposal to scrap the 2007 midterm elections has added "a negative note to the total exercise."

"I decided (to support the proposal) not out of conviction but out of duty to the organization I represented," he said.

Rodriguez learned the proposal won by a small margin of votes among con-com members.

Critics also say scrapping the 2007 senatorial and congressional elections would result in a parliament of "illegitimate members."

The dissenters — including STAR columnists Alex Magno and Jarius Bondoc — said members of the House could not pass legislation to directly or indirectly benefit themselves.

"You will end up having a parliament with no legitimate members, except the 12 senators and the President," they said.

Businessman Noel Cariño, a con-com commissioner and member of the minority who voted against the proposal, argued against term extensions of elected officials.

"Selective application of what is due and what is not due comes from the principle of the mandate from the people achieved through an election. Postponing the elections shall likewise negate the continuance of the other elected officials," Cariño pointed out.

He said the proposal to scrap the elections will attract controversy and all the work made by the con-com will just be "sideswiped" by the "no election" issue.

"We... need these transitory provisions like a hole in the head," the former Pasig lawmaker added.

The con-com recommended a five-year transition period to allow a shift from presidential bicameral to federal-parliamentary form of government. — Paolo Romero, Jess Diaz, Christina Mendez, Ding Cervantes, Delon Porcalla, Mayen Jaymalin

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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