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Monday, September 04, 2006

Charter Change, Ad Nauseam

My apologies for continuously harping on this issue, but, since it won't go away, I can't seem to pull myself away either.

With the defeat of the impeachment against the President, the government is throwing all its weight and resources behind the move to change the Charter (Cha-Cha). Already, Sigaw ng Bayan, the group responsible for collecting the necessary signatures to push a people’s initiative has filed the petition at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) last week, and has had it rejected, moving the battleground to the Supreme Court. 

Meanwhile, pro Cha-Cha columnists such as Alex Magno and Carmen Pedrosa have stepped up their campaigning, pinning their hopes that the Supreme Court will reverse its 1997 ruling on the people’s initiative then. As proof, the two Philippine Star columnists continuously and effusively cite the dissenting opinions written by current Chief Justice Art Panganiban and Associate Justice Reynato Puno as supporting evidence that the Court should reverse its ruling.

In Congress, the House of Representatives is preparing to shift itself into a constituent assembly in order to effect changes in the Constitution, with House Speaker Jose de Venecia lending support to the call for the Court to reverse its decision, saying that the Court cannot ignore the clamor of the people, as represented by the 6.3 million signatures. (Aside: but isn’t that number still a minority of Filipinos? How can it be argued that a majority of Filipinos support Charter Change?)

All this noise ignores the fact that changing the Constitution at this point will not be beneficial for the country. The current moves for Charter Change are motivated by selfishness and a desire to consolidate one’s hold on power, and are not meant to really help the Filipino people. The proponents claim that the Filipino people are wholeheartedly for the change, but their words ring as true as Squealer's reports to the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm. For one thing, as I’ve written before, how can a shift to parliament be beneficial, when the members of such a parliament will probably be members of the current Congress, which as big a circus as I’ve ever seen?

It will be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether the Charter Change movement will flourish. From where I stand, the Court will have to decide the following issues (this is assuming such issues will be brought before the Court, which cannot initiate decisions on its own, but I’m pretty certain that opponents of Charter Change will bring it up before the Court at the right moment.):

1. Is R.A. 6735 a sufficient enabling law?

2. Does Congress vote as separate houses, as the Senate believes, or is the Senate subsumed into the House and they vote as one big body, as the House believes?

and finally,

3. Is changing the form of government an amendment, or a revision, and is the people’s initiative the right method to effect a change of government?

As for reversing its 1997 ruling on RA 6735, the current members of the Court can only do so if there is enough compelling evidence that shows that there is a difference between the current Charter Change movement and the movement in 1997. Is there enough evidence? Only the Court can decide that, and I, for one, will be watching and waiting.

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