MANILA, MARCH 20, 2009
(STAR) By Ellen Tordesillas VERA Files - Malacañang has not given up on Charter change (Cha-cha) and has in fact sought the help of its erstwhile friend, former Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr., in marshalling votes to support a House resolution that will move for constitutional amendments without the participation of the Senate.

De Venecia, representative of Pangasinan’s fourth district, revealed Thursday that presidential son and Pampanga congressman Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo and Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of Leyte came to his office in late February to seek his help in getting the required number of votes for the passage of a resolution filed by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte.

That resolution called for the convening of a constituent assembly without any participation of or consent from the Senate.

In late January, President Arroyo directed her political party Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) headed by Villafuerte to prepare for the 2010 elections in what some have interpreted as a signal she was giving up attempts to get the Constitution amended, a campaign she and her partymates had been focusing on for years.

She even said she would support the candidacy of Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who has announced plans of running for president next year.

De Venecia said if the purpose of the Charter change is to extend Arroyo’s term, “I will not only not help. I will oppose it.”

De Venecia was ousted as speaker in February 2008 after his son, Jose de Venecia III, exposed the alleged involvement of the president and her husband, Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo, in the contract for a national broadband network. That contract had been awarded to the Chinese firm ZTE Corp., which had allegedly paid bribes to win the deal.

De Venecia said he told Arroyo and Romualdez, “Sabihin nyo ang totoo kung ano talaga ang gusto nyo sa Charter change (Be frank about your motives in pushing for Charter change).”

“It seems that they do not have the 196 votes that they need and that they need some 20 votes more,” he said.

“Hindi sila umimik (They didn’t say anything),” De Venecia said, adding that there was no agreement of cooperation that came out of that visit.

There was no immediate reaction from Arroyo and Romualdez.

De Venecia also denied a rumor that he met with the First Gentleman in early March and was offered the speakership in exchange for his supporting Charter change.

The Constitution provides that Congress may transform into a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.”

Villafuerte has interpreted this provision to mean that a constituent assembly can be convened as long as three-fourths of the combined number of House and Senate members, or 197, sign his resolution. There are 238 congressmen and 23 senators.

“That means even if the Senate will not participate, it’s okay as long as we garner 197 signatures in the House,” Villafuerte said earlier.

All 23 senators, however, have signed a resolution that voting should be done separately and any House move to revise the Constitution unilaterally will be unconstitutional.

Villafuerte has said Kampi would like to test judicial decision and is confident the Supreme Court will support his resolution.

De Venecia said it is public knowledge that he favors a shift to a parliamentary form of government. He had tried it by People’s Initiative in 2006 but was dismissed by the Supreme Court in an 8-7 vote.

VERA Files is the work of veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.” 

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved