The Supreme Court has the ball

Wed, 05/03/2006 - 00:00
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Paterno, however, believes that the government is hell-bent on pushing through with charter change any way it can. He even says that the appointment of former Marcos and Estrada official Ronaldo Puno to the strategic post of local governments chief was proof that "GMA will leave no stone unturned for Cha-cha (charter change)."

Indeed, it now appears that certain members of the 55-member ConCom were chosen primarily because they headed organizations that could be used to harness support for charter change.

Generating "support"

Recently, a print advertisement boasted that "influential business organizations, major labor and civil-society groups, and all the leagues of local officials nationwide have joined in this chorus for change!" It then listed as "joiners" the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry headed by Donald Dee; the Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry led by Francis Chua; Trade Union Congress of the Philippines led by Democrito Mendoza: the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches headed by Bishops Efraim Tendero and Federico Magbanua.

What the ad failed to mention was that except for Magbanua, all the named individuals were ConCom members.

The ad also made it appear that the various leagues of governors, city and town mayors, and councilors joined the charter-change movement only recently. These organizations, however, were represented in the ConCom by Dagupan City Vice Mayor Alipio Fernandez, Calbayog City Mayor Mel Senen Sarmiento and Biliran Mayor Gerardo Espina Sr.

Lambino says that these local officials "were invited to become members of ConCom so that they can give the input coming from their constituents."

Official transcripts of ConCom sessions, however, reveal that some commissioners were not really that interested in getting input from the public. During the contentious debates on Dec. 13 and 14, the ConCom was divided over a proposal to cancel next year's elections should the draft charter be approved. Some commissioners had objected, arguing that this was not what the people wanted.

"In our regional consultations, the voice of the people was very clear," said Commissioner Rita Jimeno, former president of the Philippine Bar Association. "They want change and they want it now. In fact, they were saying that they want the present politicians not to run anymore and to ban them from office."

Debating 'No-El'

Apparently, though, the "no election" clause was a needed enticement for local officials to support charter change, since it would give them an extra three years in office. Commissioner Romela Bengzon made that clear in her response to her upset colleagues, saying that she was more concerned about getting support from the politicians than from the people.

She said that "the people that we are (talking about) here we can't even count. Okay? I'm sure." By contrast, she said, "the people that the local authorities who have promised to market this is measurable - it's tested. They have the machinery."

Two rounds of votes took place over the "no election" clause; the first had those for holding the polls winning 18 to 16, while the second gave the victory to the no-election supporters at 22 to 19. The ConCom eventually transmitted both results to President Arroyo, but the draft constitution carries the "no election" clause.

As Commissioner Pedro Romualdo, who was also a delegate to the 1971 ConCon, said during the debates, "If you want our work, which you believe would be for the benefit of our country, never mind the people, country." -- with additional reporting by Vinia Datinguinoo


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