A day after congressmen approved to convene as an assembly to amend the Constitution, the barrage of criticisms from the religious, civil society, and business groups left little doubt that the move is not popular.
The Constituent assembly, or Con-ass, was called different names--from "immoral" to "treachery of the highest order." Civil society and militant groups braved the rains and marched the streets in thin crowds dramatizing their sentiments, including baring their butts. A religious leader said he is depending on prayers to knock some sense into the lawmakers.
Opposition to the Con-ass is couched on three main points: its wrong timing (The country is in the brink of recession), its questionable motive (The extension of President Arroyo's term limits), and its shaky legal basis (It snubs the 23 senators's participation in the process).
The latter is supposed to bring the Supreme Court in to decide whether the Con-ass could proceed. New appointments to the High Court could sway the results as they'll need the nod of President Arroyo--the alleged beneficiary of the Con-ass issue--before they could assume their post.
The Con-ass approval brought two questions to the fore: Will the May 2010 national elections push through? And is another people's revolution in the offing?
Allies of President Arroyo, who is on an official trip to Russia, insisted Wednesday that the measure will not lead to the cancellation of the presidential elections next year. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said, "We cannot do anything if the legislature passed it. We have to abide by the law."
The Catholic bishops did not mince words in their objections. In a statement, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) President Archbishop Angel Lagdameo said the lawmakers "betrayed the people" by approving the Con-ass mode. "When power corrupts, it corrupts absolutely," the religious leader noted.
Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes described the Con-ass as "immoral" and "self-serving."
Lagdameo said, "I am praying that it (charter change) will not happen. I am praying that they (lawmakers) will not succeed." He added, "I hope people would pray, too, and do something against the plan."
Even the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), a business group widely considered allied with the administration, thumbed it down. PCCI president Edgardo Lacson told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak in a phone interview that any move to change the constitution now is "just a big distraction" to the fact that the Philippine economy is already on the brink of a recession.
Lacson said, "Considering we had a 0.4% growth in the first quarter--which is not a respectable growth--we need to be unifying to improve the economy. On the contrary, the Con-ass is divisive and a polarizing exercise."
Over the years, tinkering with the constitution to extend President Arroyo's term has not been popular. Since pollster Social Weather Stations's August 2005 survey, those against term extension through Cha-Cha has remained above 64 percent. In its latest survey fielded over February 20 to 23 this year, 2 out of 3 (or 66 percent) of Filipinos were opposed to charter change--if it would allow President Arroyo to stay in power after her term ends on June 30, 2010.
This was lost during the hours-long debate last night, however. "LIke thieves in the night," as described by United Opposition (UNO) chairman Joseph Victor "JV" Ejercito, "the cronies of [President] Arroyo in the House of Representatives approved and passed [House Bill 1109, or Con-ass] last night."
United Opposition (UNO) President Jejomar Binay said this was "a prelude to Arroyo dictatorship."
Even Vice President Noli de Castro, who has been topping surveys on the 2010 presidential election, said he, too, is not in favor of the Con-ass move.
The haste by which the Con-Ass was approved during the plenary Tuesday night irked groups who have been lobbying for other laws.
Farmers groups who have been camping for weeks at the congressional compound for the passage of a key agrarian reform program forced their way inside, but were met by guards and turned away. Fortunately for the farmers, the bill was passed late today, the last day of Congress before they went on recess.
Anti-child pornography groups were not as lucky. While they pointed out that if a contentious issue as changing the charter can be easily approved, "what is taking our congressmen so long to pass non-debatable law as the Anti-Child Pornography Bill?" Group members organized a cultural serenade at the North Wing Lobby of the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, an overseas Filipino workers (OFW) group in Hongkong called the Con-Ass "treachery of the highest order." Dolores Balladares, chairperson of the militant United Filipinos in Hong Kong said that they now understand why the government has not allotted budget for the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV). Registration for the OAV has met severe criticisms from Filipinos abroad citing the lack of sufficient facilities for education and machines for actual registration by Philippine overseas posts.
"Now it can be told. It was never the intention of this government to hold the elections next year. It is not only us OFWs who are being disenfranchised but the whole nation," she said.
Various militant youth groups held protest rallies in Mendiola despite the pouring rain.
"The youth condemns this evil maneuver to the highest level. The Charter Change was never for the people's interests, but for the interests of the Arroyo clique," Student Christian Movement of the Philippines chairperson Cristina Guevarra said.
About a hundred members of youth groups led by Anakbayan initially tried to remove the barbed wires to enter Mendiola but the anti-riot police stopped them. The rally ended peacefully.
In Makati City, various cause-oriented and civil society groups led by UNO president and Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay met to plan for a noise barrage in the coming days at the country's financial business district.
Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bagong Pilipinas, Bagong Pilipino Movement said he will not be cowered to lead peaceful assemblies. He heads and founded the Jesus Is Lord religious group, which has members nationwide who supported him in his 2004 presidential bid. "I know the Filipino peole won't take this sitting down."
But Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile just shrugged off talks of a revolution. "It's not worth a revolution--yet." -- with reports from Nadia Trinidad, Maricar Bautista, and Zennifer Hernandez of ABS-CBN News