Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Inquire editorial on House charter change resolution, Roilo Golez blog

Spitting on it
InquirerLast updated 01:12am (Mla time) 09/07/2006
Published on Page A10 of the September 7, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

PITY the good people of Cagayan de Oro. Their elected representative in Congress -- and, by extension, their own proud city -- will forever be associated with the Arroyo administration's shameless display of outright contempt for the Constitution.
After the House committee on constitutional amendments voted on Tuesday to approve Resolution No. 1230, which seeks to convene Congress into a constituent assembly (unconstitutionally, in our view and that of many others), the committee chair, Rep. Constantino Jaraula of Cagayan de Oro, immediately welcomed the result with the most fatuous statement of the year. "The motion was approved overwhelmingly. This is not my triumph but the triumph of the committee and the Filipino people."
His triumph? Where did he get the idea that his role as engineer of the Charter change express was a personal achievement? Not even Rep. Simeon Datumanong, who controversially masterminded the rejection of two impeachment cases against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in two years, was foolish enough to claim the impeachment votes as a personal feat.
But we haven't even begun to plumb the depths of absurdity in Jaraula's statement.
The committee's approval of the motion cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called a triumph; it was simply the majority flexing its muscles. Was the eventual outcome ever at risk? Not even the most optimistic members of the House opposition thought so. In fact, the only element of mystery in the process was timing. When would the House leadership send the signal to the committee to go ahead and vote?
Indeed, when push came to shove (or, to sustain the original metaphor, when the light turned green), the committee did not even bother to discuss the substance of the motion. As opposition Rep. Roilo Golez pointed out, the committee spent two hours wrangling last Tuesday, but only on procedural matters. The actual discussion of the motion took less than a minute.
In the news release issued by Congress, Jaraula tried to address the opposition's concerns about fast-tracking. Charter change, he said, has "long been the subject of debate in Congress and numerous other public forums for almost a decade now." The two-hour meeting on Tuesday, he implied, should be understood in that longer-term context.
But Jaraula, in his eager defense of the administration strategy, was once again merely being absurd. There is no such thing as a 10-year-old "subject of debate in Congress." The legislative clock is rewound at the start of each Congress; even bills that have passed one chamber must be refiled if they do not become law.
In other words, Jaraula was playing fast and loose with the facts. The principal reason the administration coalition green-lighted the committee vote was not because it was time to conclude a decade of debate, but because the House leadership said it had the support of three-fourths of the chamber to convene a constituent assembly.
So much for the triumph of the committee. But the triumph of the Filipino people?
House Resolution No. 1230, which the committee approved and which will now be voted on in plenary, actually kills the Constitution it seeks to save.
Speaker Jose de Venecia is being economical with the truth when he insists, again and again, that the presidential form of government "has failed the Filipino people." But he is downright being miserly when he interprets a key provision in the Constitution -- which states that "Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members, may propose tochange the Charter" -- as doable even without the Senate's participation.
And Jaraula and his committee think the Speaker's view is not only reasonable, but God's honest truth. Surely, however, this unusual interpretation is even more absurd than Jaraula's own not-my-triumph-but-ours statement.
If a legislative measure requires both chambers of Congress to vote separately, before it can become law, how much more is the participation of both chambers required when amendments of or revisions to the Constitution, our system's basic law, are at stake?
Ordinary people can appreciate the import of this question. But De Venecia, Jaraula and others in the administration coalition don't even hear the question. They have a different answer in mind, and they rip and shred the Constitution and spit on it to suit their ends.
Copyright 2006 Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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