JUNE 15, 2009 (STAR) By Chrstina Mendez - Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. slammed Speaker Prospero Nograles yesterday for comparing his advocacy for a shift to a federal system to the House’s move for (con-ass) constituent assembly.

Pimentel said congressmen allied with the administration should stop cashing in on his advocacy for a federal system of government to justify their hidden agenda to allow President Arroyo to hold on to power after 2010.

The minority leader accused some administration congressmen of spearheading Charter change (Cha-cha) to shift to a parliamentary system and pave the way for Mrs. Arroyo’s installation as prime minister.

“Speaker Prospero Nograles claims that their version of Charter change and my federalism proposal are the same. That is not correct. There is a vast difference between the two,” he said.

In effect, he said their proposal is tantamount to extending Mrs. Arroyo’s term, which should expire on June 30, 2010.

The minority leader was reacting to Nograles’ statement that Joint Resolution 10 authored by Pimentel calling for a shift to a federalist form of government is no different from House Resolution 1109, calling for a con-ass.

He said he filed Joint Resolution 10 on the establishment of a federal system to put an end to the highly centralized setup that characterizes the existing presidential system, to hasten the country’s economic development, and provide a constitutional solution to the decades-old Muslim secessionist insurgency.

Although the federalism campaign was gaining momentum inside and outside Congress, Pimentel said he had to put the proposal in the freezer after seeing that Malacañang and its “legislative cohorts” were riding on it to support President Arroyo’s design to perpetuate herself in power.

He recalled that he said “no” when some legislators identified with the administration tried to convince him to drop his objection to the idea of extending the term of elective officials, including the presidency and members of Congress, to build up support for his federalism proposal.

“If I would go along with their proposition, I would lose the moral authority to oppose the extension of Gloria’s term,” he said.

Meanwhile, Malacañang hit yesterday continued efforts by opposition groups to agitate Filipinos against the Arroyo administration using the martial law bogey and the Charter change issue.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde issued the statement as Speaker Nograles lamented the House of Representatives is being criticized on its efforts to amend the Constitution just because administration allies dominate it when the Senate had earlier passed a similar Charter change resolution.

He also insisted there are no plans from the Palace to impose martial law. – With Paolo Romero

'Senate federalism plan, constituent assembly same banana' By Delon Porcalla Updated June 14, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - They’re just the “same banana.” Speaker Prospero Nograles yesterday insisted that Joint Resolution 10 authored by Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. calling for a shift to a federalist form of government is no different from House Resolution 1109 calling for a constituent assembly (con-ass).

Nograles pointed out that the public – particularly civil society, militant groups, the Catholic Church and the political opposition – tends to oppose the efforts of the House but not the opposition-dominated Senate “because the House is an administration ally.”

“These personalities were eerily quiet and unconcerned when in fact, the Joint Congressional Resolution 10 has the same purpose, which is to amend the Constitution, and it was overwhelmingly signed by 15 senators,” Nograles said.

He said the critics were nowhere to be found when the Senate approved Pimentel’s Joint Congressional Resolution 10.

Former Surigao del Sur congressman Prospero Pichay made the same observation, saying both resolutions are about the same issue.

“When Senator Pimentel made the proposal for federalism, no one opposed. It’s the same issue. Does it mean that it is proper for a member of the opposition to propose changes in the Constitution (but) not one from the administration?” he asked.

Pichay said the anti-Charter change rally held in Makati City last Wednesday was not about the sentiments against constituent assembly.

“It’s all about the 2010 elections. It’s nothing more than a political exercise. Politicians will ride on free publicity,” he said.

Pichay, chairman of the Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), said the opposition “failed miserably in their duty to fiscalize.”

“Their role is to come out with a counter-proposal… they have not really come up with a counter-proposal,” he said.

Fear of the unknown

On the other hand, lawmakers like Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. said the primary reason why many from the opposition voted against HR 1109 is because of the apparent move to extend President Arroyo’s term of office.

“They (administration congressmen) just wanted to extend her (Mrs. Arroyo’s) term beyond June 30, 2010,” De Venecia said.

“The Cha-cha they are flaunting before the Filipino people is a charade, to fool us so that Gloria can become president again or prime minister,” the former Speaker told a prayer rally in Dagupan City yesterday.

De Venecia urged the rallyists led by government critic Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz to be more vigilant.

Cruz, for his part, said majority of the members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) would soon speak up against Charter change.

Cruz admitted most of his bishop colleagues have been silent on the issue “but if they will speak their mind, I think they will follow the other bishops who speak out.”

Cruz said “the silent majority” of the member-bishops of the CBCP share the sentiments of those opposing Cha-Cha, as against a few of them supporting the cause of the administration.

“They are few (pro-administration) and usually they are not as vocal as the more active bishops. They are by and large quiet and if they talk, that is their right but I don’t think they make an impact,” Cruz said.

He reiterated the CBCP’s official stand on the issue is that Cha-cha initiatives should take place after the 2010 elections.

While the Constitution may not be perfect, Cruz said moves to amend its provisions should be made through a constitutional convention.

Cruz said one of the principal concerns over Cha-cha is the fear of President Arroyo extending her term of office.

Cruz shared the concerns of many sectors against Cha-cha at this time when elections are fast approaching.

If Nograles and the administration congressmen succeed in amending the Constitution, Cruz pointed out, it would be an opportunity to lift the term limits of elected officials, including Mrs. Arroyo.

Nograles, on the other hand, said the arguments on Cha-cha would never end.

“These protests (against Charter change) will go on forever in the Philippines because even while we all agree that we need to amend the Constitution, partisan politics always gets in the way,” he said.

“Some of the people who are instigating these protests are the very same people who are staunchly defending Charter change when they were the ones who are still in power. When will this end?” he asked.

At the same time, Nograles urged the Supreme Court to step in and give a clear interpretation of the constitutional provisions on the modes of amending the Charter.

Nograles said he would take the congressional recess as an opportunity to exchange ideas with key leaders of Congress on the issue.

The Speaker admitted that he is still at a loss on what to do next with the controversial HR 1109.

Nograles also clarified the approval of HR 1109 does not mean that the House can already convene itself into a constituent assembly in late July, when Congress will resume session after President Arroyo delivers her last State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).

“I am not going to convene anything,” Nograles said.

“We need the period for consultations with House and Senate leaders and other sectors to get a clear picture of what to do next. Frankly, we are still in legal disagreement as to the procedures to follow after the approval of Resolution 1109. I therefore need to clear the air as to the legal procedure,” he said. – With Evelyn Macairan and Eva Visperas

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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