by Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS. com/Newsbreak | 06/01/2009 7:50 PM
Speaker Prospero Nograles wants the House of Representatives to vote on two Charter change (Cha-cha) resolutions this week, but he denied this was upon orders of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Nograles on Monday said that aside from the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) extension and right of reply bills, he will have the Cha-cha measures--House resolutions 737 and 1109--debated at the plenary before Congress adjourns sine die on June 3.
"We have to get this over with already," he told reporters.
He said these may be taken up Monday night, after the interpellations on the CARP extension bill, or on Tuesday. The reproductive health bill was deferred.
Asked if the House plenary will approve HR 1109, Nograles answered, "I hope so."
But Nograles maintained that there is no marching order from Malacañang.
"It's always been part of the agenda. Why do they keep on saying it's Malacañang [pushing for it]? I said this is a leadership move. This is part of the Lakas-Kampi program, the new merged party. Pinagusapan namin ito that we will push it," he said.
"There is no marching order. We have separation of powers. We respect each other's sovereignty," Nograles added.
Former President Joseph Estrada had alleged that President Arroyo mandated Lakas congressmen, immediately after the Lakas-Kampi merger meeting last week, to fast-track passage of the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) resolution this week. He also alleged that Arroyo promised each congressman P20 million to vote in favor of the Con-Ass resolution.
Failed to block
For a moment on Monday, it seemed that HR 1109--the more controversial Charter change move which seeks to convene Congress into a Constituent Assembly--was dead.
In a surprise move Monday morning, the House rules committee decided to send back to the committee on constitutional amendments the "invalid" committee report submitted by its chair, La Union Rep. Victor Ortega.
The rules committee, which is in charge of transmitting committee decisions to the plenary, questioned the decision of Ortega's committee to send the resolution to the plenary without approving it first.
Without approving the resolution, the committee voted 19-6 to send HR 1109 to the plenary. Ortega argued that "there is no better area where we can have a more comprehensive discussion than the plenary."
But rules committee chair Iloilo Rep. Arthur Defensor said the constitutional amendments committee's decision was "invalid."
"The only way that a committee can have its committee report referred to the committee on rules for transmittal to the plenary is when it is acted upon favorably or approved," he said.
Following the decision of the rules committee, Ortega immediately called for a special hearing at 4 pm on Monday, where the committee voted, 22-10, to approve the resolution.
It was a quick but highly-charged hearing, where the members of the minority tried but failed to derail HR 1109.
After the voting, Nograles said there is no more hindrance for HR 1109 to be deliberated in plenary. Nograles had called the committee members to an executive session before the committee voted 22-10.
The members of the minority--who are opposed to the Charter change resolutions- -were earlier relieved by the decision of the rules committee.
Deputy minority leader Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo thought that with three remaining sessions left, HR 1109 had been effectively blocked until Congress resumes session in July. He did not anticipate the special hearing on Monday called by the committee on constitutional amendments.
HR 1109 is the more controversial than HR 737 because it seeks to convene Congress into a constituent assembly and propose amendments to the 1987 charter through a three-fourths vote of both houses voting jointly instead of separately.
This means the 270-member House of Representatives can propose and approve charter amendments even without one senator from the 23-member Senate participating.
HR 1109 was masterminded by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, although he has withdrawn his signature because of disagreements with Nograles. However, other administration allies are still pushing for it.
"It's a misunderstood bill," argued Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, who voted in favor of the resolution.
Administration allies have claimed the intention of the resolution is to force a "justiciable controversy" and get the Supreme Court to clarify the issue on whether Congress should vote jointly or separately on charter amendments.
Critics of charter change are not convinced this is the intention. "Imagine the danger it will pose if it is approved," said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
The other Charter change measure, Nograles's HR 737, seeks to open up the exploitation of the country’s natural resources to corporations even if they are 100% owned by foreigners. It also allows foreign ownership of land.
HR 737 wants to amend the charter through the normal legislative route, which means that after the House approves it, the Senate will have to pass its own version, after which a single version is agreed upon in a bicameral conference committee, and then signed by the President into law.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." - Martin Luther King Jr.
"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." - Martin Luther King Jr.
Bobby Kennedy - "Laws can embody standards; governments can enforce laws--but the final task is not a task for government. It is a task for each and every one of us. Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted--when we tolerate what we know to be wrong--when we close our eyes and ears to the corrupt because we are too busy, or too frightened-- when we fail to speak up and speak out--we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice."