OCTOBER 29, 2006 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Describing the junking of the "people’s initiative" mode for Charter change (Cha-cha) as a "sad day for democracy," administration allies in the House of Representatives will now resurrect the constituent assembly (con-ass) option.

As this developed, the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP) expressed disappointment over the 8-7 vote by the Supreme Court against the people’s initiative.

"It is sad that the voice of the people was not heard," ULAP president and Bohol Gov. Erico Aumentado said, adding that his legal team will study the SC decision.

Aumentado hinted that ULAP may file a motion for reconsideration.

SC Associate Justice Renato Puno said he had voted to "reverse and set aside the resolution of the Comelec dated Aug. 31, 2006, denying due course to the petition for initiative filed by Raul Lambino and (Aumentado) in their own behalf and together with some 6.3 million registered voters who affixed their signatures (to the petition) and to remand the petition at bar to the Comelec for further proceedings."

Lambino heads the Sigaw ng Bayan movement.

Puno said the only basis used by the Comelec for junking the petition was the SC ruling that Republic Act 6735, the Initiative Referendum Act, was "insufficient" for amending the Constitution.

Puno believes that the issue "should be properly litigated before the Comelec, where both parties will be given full opportunity to prove their allegations."

Puno said the Comelec’s reliance on the SC’s ruling on Santiago vs. Comelec constitutes a grave abuse of discretion that amounted to a lack of jurisdiction in the matter.

"The Santiago case did not establish the firm doctrine that RA 6735 is not a sufficient law to implement the constitutional provision allowing people’s initiative to amend the Constitution," Puno said.

‘Battle shifts to Congress’

"The battle now shifts to Congress," Deputy Majority Leader Abraham Mitra said yesterday minutes after learning of the High Court’s ruling.

"The Cha-cha train will have to switch to the constituent assembly track. But it takes two to Cha-cha. Will the Senate dance? That’s the big question. It is now up to their representatives to continue what the people have started," he said.

Unlike Mitra, most House leaders and members are of the belief that they do not need the Senate’s participation in effecting constitutional changes.

They plan to invite the senators soon to a joint session and will welcome their attendance, but the congressmen intend to go ahead with Cha-cha even if no senator attends or if only one or two show up.

In such a session, the House will aim to approve Resolution 1230 by a three-fourths vote of the combined membership of 260 of the two chambers of Congress, or by 195, even if all of these votes are cast by congressmen and congresswomen.

Their reasoning is that all that is required for the amendments they seek in the 1987 Constitution to be approved is through a "three-fourths vote of all the members of Congress."

They argue that the Charter does not specify whether the House and the Senate should vote separately or that each chamber should muster a three-fourths vote as the senators claim.

The Senate has unanimously passed a resolution expressing its sense that proposed amendments must be approved by the two chambers voting separately.

According to Fr. Joaquin Bernas, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission that wrote the Constitution, though the Charter does not prescribe separate voting on Charter change, the spirit of bicameralism enshrined in it dictates that the Senate and the House cast their votes separately.

According to him, if an insignificant measure that seeks to change the name of a school or road requires bicameral approval, more so an important undertaking as Cha-cha.

Mitra said if the House goes it alone on Cha-cha, the issue will eventually be brought to the Supreme Court like the failed people’s initiative.

He said it would be better for House leaders and Cha-cha proponents to convince senators to agree to the proposed constituent assembly.

"That would obviate any possible constitutional challenge," he added.

Resolution 1230 is authored principally by Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Constantino Jaraula, who chairs the House constitutional amendments committee.

It contains a package of amendments that would shift the country to the parliamentary system and convert the two-chamber Congress into a single-chamber legislature, effectively abolishing the Senate.

Jaraula’s resolution is now with the House rules committee, the panel that determines which measures the chamber takes up in the plenary session and can calendar the Cha-cha resolution for any day it chooses.

However, there is another Cha-cha measure, Resolution 1285, of which Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. is the principal author.

Like the Jaraula measure, Pichay’s resolution contains a package of changes that are similar to those suggested by the constitutional amendments committee chairman.

Pichay’s group is proposing that Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. schedule a caucus in which the two similar versions of the rewritten Constitution will be reconciled.

Jaraula has suggested that, instead of a caucus, the Pichay group should present their proposals as amendments to Resolution 1230 when the measure is taken up in plenary. The Pichay camp, however, wants the Jaraula draft to be subsumed by Resolution 1285.

House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said the President’s allies in the House have yet to determine whether the constituent assembly mode of Charter change is still viable when Congress resumes session on Nov. 6.

"It is utterly saddening," Nograles said in Filipino. "We will assess when we convene to pursue constituent assembly. I do not think we can or should lose twice on the same issue, as it is needed badly by our country. Time may be against us, but we will give it our best shot."

The minority bloc in the House expects the majority coalition to push for a constituent assembly, according to Sorsogon Rep. Francis Escudero. "There is no time any more for people’s initiative, but expect (the majority) to make a push for constituent assembly."

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. concurred: "People should now prepare to repulse the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo-Jose de Venecia Jr. hare-brained plot to amend the Constitution by con-ass solo performance by the House of Representatives."

Vox populi?

League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) president and Binalonan, Pangasinan Mayor Ramon Guico said, "there is an overwhelming bias in favor of Charter change."

"The voice of the people should take precedence over technicalities," Guico said as he expressed surprise and sadness over the SC verdict. He believes that the voting in the SC was "too close for comfort."

ULAP press relations officer and Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone said they will file a motion for reconsideration.

"The decision of the SC was a complete disregard of the sovereign will of the people to propose amendments to the Constitution," Evardone said in a text message. "We express our outrage over the ruling but we are confident that the SC will listen to the cry of the people for change."

Former Charter change Advocacy Commission (ad-com) chairman Lito Monico Lorenzana said yesterday was a "sad day for democracy in the Philippines. The people should decide in a plebiscite by way of a people’s initiative but we cannot do that now."

He said the ad-com and other pro-Charter change groups will continue to call for amendments to the Constitution despite the SC verdict. "We will still continue to push for our advocacy in whatever manner." — With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mike Frialde, Jose Rodel Clapano, Delon Porcalla and Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved