APRIL 10, 2006 (View from the Palace (For the week ending April 09, 2006) Retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. has submitted his recommendations to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on electoral reforms. The comprehensive report deals not only with the operations of the Commission on Elections but also covers possible amendments to the Constitution and proposed congressional amendments to the Omnibus Election Code. It also proposes executive initiatives to improve public awareness about their role in bringing about credible and meaningful elections.

The combined implementation of all its recommendations will lead to credible and honest elections at all times and in all levels, as well as a more educated and vigilant voting population.

What does the revered retired Chief Justice recommend?

For the Comelec, the Report recommends that the electoral body amends its Rules of Procedures to allow for: (a) mandatory raffle of cases; (b) mandatory deliberation (en banc or division) of a case before the assignment to a ponente for the writing of opinion; (c) shorter periods for the availment of remedies for a more expeditious disposition of cases; (d) a new rule abolishing the municipal canvass of election returns insofar as national candidates are concerned.

It also recommends that the Comelec undertake capacity-building programs to professionalize its senior staff and improve the body’s internal management processes.

The former chief justice also believes that the Constitution must be amended in line with the following:

* To fix the term of office of Members of the House of Representatives and provincial, city and municipal elective officials to four (4) years.

* To de-synchronize the elections and hold, as a consequence, national and local elections on different dates.

* To ban the appointment of elective local officials and Members of the House of the Representatives to any public office during the term for which they were elected.

* To ban the appointment of Senators to any public office within three (3) years from their election for a particular term.

* To prohibit political dynasties (clear definition of which should already be made instead of definition being left to Congress) and to provide harsh sanctions for violations.

* To prohibit elective public officials from changing their party affiliation during the term for which they were elected and provide harsh sanctions for violations.

* To adopt certain electoral reforms proposed by the Consultative Commission:

* Develop the party system

* Develop two major political parties

* Provide financial assistance to the political parties on the basis of their share of the votes cast

* Prohibit financial contributions from foreign governments

There are other recommendations as well that require legislative amendments to the Omnibus Election Code. Due to space constraints, let me discuss but a few of these proposed amendments. The Davide Report proposed that higher penalties be imposed for election offenses and that the penalty of imprisonment be restored for these offenses. I agree with this proposal in light of perennial violations in the posting of election paraphernalia including streamers, billboards, stickers, and posters. When elections are over, the people, not the candidates, are left with the gargantuan task of cleaning up their neighborhoods of unsightly posters and stickers that are often put up by the campaign staff of national and local candidates while everyone is fast asleep.

I also agree that the Omnibus Election Code should be amended in order to fix a certain period within which regular courts, in the exercise of original or appellate jurisdiction, shall decide election cases. Our political past is replete with anecdotes of poll protest cases being resolved only a few months or weeks before the advent of another election thus giving the genuine winner little chance to savor his or her victory.

In the Davide Report, the Department of Education is also called upon to include in its curriculum a subject on elections. It also proposes the creation of a Committee on Electoral Reforms composed of representatives from the Office of the President, Philippine Senate, House of Representatives, and the Comelec.

This corner commends Chief Justice Davide for his extraordinary work in putting together a clear blueprint for reforms in order to improve our electoral and political systems. Note: You may email us at totingbunye2000@yahoo.com

Palace: Latest moves to oust GMA make strong case for Cha-cha By Paolo Romero The Philippine Star 04/10/2006

Malacañang said yesterday the latest move of opposition leaders to oust President Arroyo by campaigning for a snap election and launching their own signature campaign has no basis in law and is another compelling argument for amending the 1987 Constitution.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said Mrs. Arroyo’s political opponents are showing their desperation by demanding that she follow the footsteps of Thailand’s Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra — who stepped down from his post last week in the wake of popular protest from the opposition — when the two countries’ political systems and situation are different.

"What they’re doing is another good reason for us to change our political system," Ermita said in a telephone interview. "In a parliamentary system, such political issues would be resolved smoothly despite political bickering."

The Arroyo administration is pushing for amendments to the Constitution to allow the country to shift the present form of government to a unicameral parliamentary system and to lift restrictive economic provisions as well as implement judicial and electoral reforms.

It is simultaneously supporting the ongoing people’s initiative campaign and moves to convene the Senate and the House of Representatives into a constituent assembly to craft constitutional amendments.

Ermita said that unlike what the opposition has been doing for the past several months, the Arroyo administration’s efforts to implement Charter reforms — through a constituent assembly and a people’s initiative signature drive — are provided for in the Constitution.

"They are now pushing for snap elections, even a signature campaign for it to oppose the people’s initiative, but what are they going to do after that assuming that it does gain ground?" he asked.

Ermita recalled that the President’s opponents even came up with a "people’s court" last year supposedly to try her for various charges, including electoral fraud, "but the proceedings went nowhere — there is no such thing in the legal system and was reminiscent of the "kangaroo courts" set up by communist rebels.

Bataan Gov. Enrique Garcia predicted that the people’s initiative would succeed even in so-called opposition bailiwicks. He brushed aside threats from anti-Charter change groups that they would seek court orders from provinces and cities to stop local executives from continuing with their campaign to gather signatures.

He pointed out that in the case of San Juan, a known stronghold of deposed President Joseph Estrada, this municipality would only have a few hundred thousand registered voters so meeting the constitutional requirement of gathering the signatures of three percent of the total voting population would be easy.

"If there are 100,000 voters there, how much is three percent? Only 3,000 (signatures), it’s so easy. They also have enemies there," Garcia told reporters.

He said it is time for Filipinos to unite and put aside personal interests because a "unified and efficient governance is now within our reach" as proponents of the people’s initiative work to gather signatures from the required 12 percent or 5.2 million total registered voters nationwide to effect Charter change.

"This change will be translated to better interventions that will reap benefits for our country and people," Garcia said.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arroyo said her administration is "determined to win" its simultaneous campaign for economic and political reforms through Charter change as Filipinos are willing to make temporary sacrifices to secure the country’s future.

In her speech at the 64th Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valor) celebration held at the Dambana ng Kagitingan at Mt. Samat in Pilar, Bataan, the President asked Filipinos to support her reform agenda, saying the country has "won many victories" like in World War II "because we help one another and because we know how to sacrifice."

"The struggle is still long and heavy but we are determined to win because we have the needed weapons: the citizens’ sense of sacrifice that has enabled us to make difficult but necessary economic and fiscal reforms in the past few years, the meaningful social programs and job-creating infrastructure that now at last we can carry out because we have made those fiscal reforms, and the political will to make our system more attuned, more responsive and keeping up-to-date with the demands of the 21st century," Mrs. Arroyo said.

United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney, who was among the guests at the celebration, declined to directly comment on latest moves to force Mrs. Arroyo to step down.

"It’s not for me to say how democracy proceeds here but I think it’s important to remember that democracy is based on strong institutions," Kenney told reporters. "You want to have institutions that respect the framework of democracy so that this country can grow, so that there can be prosperity, so peace, stability and my focus on it in the next several years is going to be strongly on prosperity and security."

"This is a beautiful country and I’m hoping to see things move forward," she added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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