On this final week before Congress goes into its long recess on Friday, 5 June (up to the 4th Monday of July reopening with the SONA), it appears that Malacanang will no longer allow any further dilly-dallying or its allies working at cross-purposes with each other in the matter of charter change. Nograles has come out from the backroom; according to one source, he told people that his job was on the line.
In case you got confused over the sequence of events that has brought the chacha express to its final run this week, as recounted by Newsbreak's report below, let me review what has happened (and share some sideline stories) since Reso 1109 was killed during the meeting of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments on 19 May. (For those interested, I have an earlier email regarding this confusing meeting, which featured a walk-out by the minority, among other notable occurrences) .
Within 24 hours of the vote defeating 1109, Cong Agbayani, one of those who had voted against approval of the Resolution, filed a Motion for Reconsideration (MR) of the Commitee vote. On Tuesday last week, 26 May, during the Committee meeting, two resource persons who had previously been invited to present their views to the body, Fr. Bernas and former Just. Mendoze, attended and gave their views regarding avalable chacha modes. While the two resource persons held different opinions on some points, they were in full agreement that separate voting was required in changing the constitution, with each chamber requiring 3/4 of the total number of its members.
Despite this very clear position from both resource persons emerging after around two hours of discussion, as soon as the resource persons left the meeting, the Committee voted,first, in favor of the MR, followed by the bizarre action approving sending 1109 to the plenary without first voting for its approval. In fact, serveral of those who voted in favor of the motion explicitly stated that they wanted to have the Resolution debated on the floor but that they would personally vote against it. The vote on this motion was pushed despite the fact that the committee had not had the chance to discuss the inputs of the resource persons among themselves, 1109 still had not been sponsored before the committee, and the plenary session had already started. (Holding committee meetings during plenary sessions is banned; when this point was raised, Committee chair Ortega said that he had acquired written permission from the Committee on Rules for the meeting to continue even beyond the start of the plenary session. Cong Golez noted, however, that the written permission had not been signed by the Minority Floor Leader). All these objections were disregarded by the chair and admin allies won by a vote of 19:6. Of course, by this time, the room had filled with members of the majority, many of whom had not attended any of the previous meetings, and joined this particular hearing after the resource persons had left.
I asked Cong Ortega after the meeting if there was any precedent to what his committee had just done; i.e., voting to send a measure to the plenary without having passed it through a vote for approval. He replied in the negative. Cong. Agbayani told me that he was against 1109 but that he wanted the issue settled once and for all by the plenary. Cong. Dimaporo shared with me that the majority wanted to put 1109 to a plenary vote so that the case could be raised to the Supreme Court; if the Supreme Court says that this is mode of chacha is not allowed, he continued, then Congress would immediately shift and pass a measure for chacha through ConCon. When I asked him why the rush, he said it had to be done now because no President would be able to push charter change so this matter had to be decided before the next President took office. On a different track, there was also speculation that the majority wanted to bring the measure to the plenary to vote it down and embarass Villafuerte on the floor.
On Friday, I received a text from one of our Congress allies that the Committee report had been completed and that Ortega was actively moving to get the Committee report signed by the members for submission to the Rules Committee in time for its regular Monday meeting.
Today, the crazy and eventually wrongful happenings in the HOR continued. The first news we received was a pleasant surprise. The Committee on Rules, in its morning meeting, decided to refer 1109 back to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments because both the Majority and Minority Floor Leaders (Art Defensor and Ronnie Zamora, respectively) agreed that a measure could not be brought to the floor without its having been approved in committee. In fact, the previous vote for its approval had been defeated. Our Congress ally opined that this probably meant that 1109 was dead. Since three-days notice was required for a committee meeting to be held, the ChaCha Committee would no longer have time to convene and approve the measure for the Rules Committee to schedule it for plenary discussion and voting. Deliberation on Reso 737 could be pushed but it faced strong challenges because it did not specify the chacha mode which it would follow. Well, we were wrong - chacha by conass is not yet dead.
At 2:30 PM, we received the message that a ChaCha Committee had been scheduled at 4:00 PM (Monday) to vote on 1109. It was related that Nograles appealed to the members not to question the lack of three-day notice for the meeting. It is at this point that he is reported to have said that his job was on the line.
As reported by Newsbreak below, 1109 was approved by the Committee with a vote of 22:10. The word is that Nograles has called for a majority caucus at 2:00 PM later (Tuesday). Reports are rife that P/20M has been promised to each one who votes for 1109 at the plenary.
So expect a full house and an easy quorum starting tomorrow. I guess we will be seeing a lot of faces, including strutting young sons, with their Tito now joined by Tita, who have been absent from the floor since Congress reopened in April. Will they do their magic under the cover of darkness, maneuvering a vote of approval while the nation sleeps? It would not be the first time.
Remember what our Ibasura primer states:
The ultimate authority resides in us, the people, and we should not squander that by sitting idly by while GMA usurps all power for herself. We must express with passion, commitment and vehemence our outrage at any attempt to extend her term even one day beyond June 30, 2010. She and her minions must understand that we are prepared to take concerted, sustained action to stand for our rights.
Please be at the plenary session later today, Tuesday; the session is scheduled to start at 4:00 PM but it may take a bit of time before quorum is reached. Every day this week will count in this particular segment of GMA's attempt to extend herself in power. We may need to return to the plenary hall several more times in the coming days.
Nograles minces no words in stating what he wants to achieve within the next few days.
No excuse for us not to act.
"We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard...and too damn cheap.''
(Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007)