One Voice Commentary on House Resolutions

Cracks in the Rainbow Coalition?

By: Atty. Carlos P. Medina
Chief Legal Counsel of One Voice

Before the House of Representatives today are two versions of Charter Change proposals that, at first glance, look basically similar, but on deeper scrutiny could tell of cracks in the Rainbow Coalition in the Lower House of the Congress of the Philippines.

The first of the two is House Resolution No. 1230, known as the Jaraula proposal, named after its principal author, Misamis Oriental Rep. Constantino Jaraula, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments. The other is House Resolution No. 1285, known as the Pichay proposal, named after its principal author, Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, Jr., chairman of the House Defense Committee.

Both resolutions are said to be favored by members of the House, yet they have material differences. The Pichay version is reportedly endorsed by more congressmen than the Jaraula version, but both are set to be debated on plenary. That could mean deep disagreements on certain provisions of or proposed amendments to the Resolutions.

In any event, what will be submitted to the people is expected to be a compromise version, assuming that the administration can successfully push for Charter Change either through a so-called People’s Initiative (P. I.) or a Constituent Assembly (ConAss).

It is significant that many congressmen have endorsed both versions, which seek a shift in the form of government from the current presidential system with a bicameral legislature to a parliamentary system with a unicameral legislature. Both versions propose to weaken the Supreme Court. Both also give more powers to the Prime Minister than the President has in the 1987 Constitution, as can be gleaned from the following features:

· Abolition of the Commission on Appointments, thus removing any check on the appointing power of the Prime Minister;

· Handing the Prime Minister the power to contract and guarantee foreign and domestic loans without the concurrence of the Monetary Board; and

· In addition to the powers that arise from the fusion of the Executive and Legislative Departments and of the Senate and the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister, under HR 1285, will continue to exercise general supervision over all local government units.

Under both versions, there is no question as to who will hold power during the transition: themselves, meaning the incumbent senators and congressmen who shall comprise the Interim Parliament.

As for the President and the Vice President, they will continue to exercise their powers under the 1987 Constitution until 2010, except that under HR No. 1285, the Prime Minister of the Interim Parliament will act as the “chief executive officer” of the government. Since this position is undefined, the potential conflict will undoubtedly be the subject of negotiations before the final version of the transitory provisions is approved.

The two versions have other material differences.

In HR No. 1230, the President is the head of state while the Prime Minister is head of government; in HR No. 1285, there is no President, only a Prime Minister who is both head of state and of government.

In HR No. 1230, a federal system of government is proposed to be established within 10 years from the ratification of the proposals; in HR No. 1285, the present unitary system of local governments and autonomous regions is maintained.

HR 1230 opens up the economy to foreigners, i.e., they may develop our natural resources, engage in insurance and advertising, and own lands, public utilities, mass media and schools. HR 1285, however, maintains the Filipino-first provisions and Filipino ownership requirements of the 1987 Constitution.

And contrary to HR 1230, HR 1285 changes the definition of our national territory by apparently excluding our claim over Sabah. It also does away with the constitutional prohibitions on abortion, political dynasties, and the presence of nuclear weapons in our country.

The gaps in the two versions of Charter Change proposals clearly show a state of disagreement, if not confusion, in the House of Representatives. Its members, in their zeal to change the Constitution, could not even agree on the transition mechanism which will govern the shift from a presidential-bicameral to a parliamentary-unicameral system. HR 1230 wants the interim parliament to be set up immediately after the ratification of the proposals, but only until June 30, 2007 (although it has the power to determine when the elections will take place), while HR 1285 wants the interim parliament to be convened in January 2008 (after elections in November 2007) until June 30, 2010.

It is both disturbing and revealing that the House of Representatives, whose processes are intended, designed, and structured for careful and deliberative consideration of legislative measures, appears divided up to this time on key issues on such an important matter as Charter Change!

Instead of deep and purposive inquiry, there may instead be intense bickering behind the scenes on who will be the principal beneficiary of the tectonic shift to a parliamentary-unicameral system, even as they agree on the principal objective of consolidating and increasing their power. The cracks in the Rainbow Coalition may not be visible yet to the naked eye of the public, but they may widen when the plenary debates begin. We can only imagine how much worse the situation can deteriorate when preparations for the elections start, if they have not, particularly on the choices for official candidates.

The message is, therefore, clear and categorical. Charter change cannot be rushed. Under existing conditions, if the Constitution must be revised it is best done through a constitutional convention. We cannot leave to power-driven politicians the future of the fundamental law of the land. (visit www.onevoice.org.ph for previous articles)

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • Clearly, its their own doing or undoing that’s preventing their choo-choo train from going anywhere. Their obvious greed for power reminds us that nothing is permanent in politics. What is scary is their obsession in staying in power and totally weakening our institutions. When majority of Filipinos cannot even afford to own a small parcel of land, what more when the foreigners come in. This will raise the cost of land further alienating the ordinary Filipino. Education will suffer too as the right to education will be for the rich and moneyed. The checks and balances will no longer exist and tyrany will certainly set in. We have seen how a parliamentary system can be easily abused with the Hungary and Thailand events. Charter change is not a one time deal and all or nothing solution. I couldn’t help but laugh at how Lambino tried to be a constitutional expert. Things not thought well and done in haste and insincerity ususlly blows up in one’s face. I’ve so far explained to people I interact with the perils of the Cha-Cha, now they finally realize that they are being hoodwinked by those who want to stay in power forever. They all favor direct elections and sectoral representation. I’ve even heard of changing the congress into a sectoral congress which will represent all sectors of society. They will no longer be elected locally but nationally. Its daring and expensive from my point of view but at least the voice of the people will be truly heard.