Speaker Prospero Nograles assured the nation Friday that there will be elections in 2010 despite the renewed eleventh-hour campaign of President Arroyo’s allies for Charter change (Cha-cha).
Nograles said the certainty of elections being held one year from now is the reason why the House of Representatives is trying to allocate P11 billion for the automation of the balloting by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Nograles was commenting on the revelation of Rep. Joel Villanueva of the party-list group Citizens Battle Against Corruption that Mrs. Arroyo’s allies have resurrected their Cha-cha initiative through a constituent assembly (con ass).
Villanueva claimed witnessing leaders of Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) party on Wednesday making “10 or more” of his colleagues sign their Cha-cha resolution inside the Speaker’s office.
Villanueva said Kampi aims to extend Mrs. Arroyo’s term beyond June 30, 2010 via Cha-cha through con ass.
Senators, for their part, said it is a futile move for administration congressmen to push for Charter change in the wake of public perception that such moves are meant to allow President Arroyo to extend her term beyond 2010.
Sen. Francis Escudero, chairman of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revisions of codes and laws, along with Senators Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Loren Legarda said Cha-cha moves at this time are as good as dead because the Senate would not allow it.
“It’s more dead than (a) Peking duck,” Pimentel said. Sen. Joker Arroyo also said Cha-cha is dead in the water notwithstanding administration efforts to try to resuscitate it.
Escudero said it was pointless for the House to insist on Cha-cha through constituent assembly because the Senate would not be a party to “politically-motivated, malicious and self-serving attempts to amend the Constitution.”
Administration allies are bent on approving the resolution drafted by Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte calling on Congress to convene as a con ass.
Nograles said the “rumor or fear about term extension is contrary and is not in accordance with the P11 billion we are trying to approve for poll automation.”
“How can we spend for automation if there is no election? That makes the rumor out of place,” he said.
Asked if the 2010 elections would be for the presidential system or a parliamentary form of government that can be installed through Cha-cha, Nograles said, “From my standpoint, it’s presidential. No hidden cards.”
He pointed out preparations that the Comelec has been undertaking are for the presidential-congressional-local elections in May next year.
The Comelec is pushing lawmakers to immediately approve the supplemental budget to finance the automation of the elections that include the printing of election forms, Nograles pointed out.
Malacañang slammed critics who insist on linking President Arroyo to moves to amend the Constitution.
Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs Gabriel Claudio and Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Mrs. Arroyo has already made plans to exit in 2010 and ensuring the holding of elections for her successor.
Remonde said reports that she is behind the renewed push for Charter change “are nothing but black propaganda calculated to make people angry with the President and the administration in general.”
Claudio said: “The holding of peaceful, honest and credible elections is the administration’s main agenda for 2010.”
“It (Arroyo administration) does not include nor contemplate any term extension for the President and other incumbent officials,” he said.
Claudio stressed Malacañang has nothing to do with the signature gathering campaign for any Charter change proposals in the House.
“There is no pressure being put by the Palace on Speaker Nograles or any member of the House on Charter change,” he said.
Claudio said how the congressmen deal with issue and the resolutions of Nograles or Villafuerte “is entirely and exclusively their affair.”
Other House leaders said fears of a term extension for the President and other officials are unfounded.
“They are just wasting time talking about it. If term extension is proposed, that will never succeed and it is doomed to fail. The Senate has already passed a resolution against term extension, it is nonsense to talk about it,” Majority Leader Arthur Defensor (Iloilo) said.
North Cotabato Rep. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza said she doubts if there is still time for Cha-cha given the fact that the nation is already preparing for the next presidential election in 2010 and people expect such election to be held.
While the opposition and administration critics must remain vigilant against a possible term extension, Mendoza said they “must provide for real solutions and avenues to effect reforms and changes to alleviate the lives of the poor.”
For his part, Camiguin Rep. Pedro Romualdo said the President has no hand in the Cha-cha effort in the House.
“This is not in the President’s legislative agenda. This is purely an internal business of Congress, which is a co-equal of the executive branch,” he said.
Another lawmaker, Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante, said all of these criticisms against Cha-cha are just media antics of some politicians.
“Why don’t they just help? They were not elected to be critics but to serve for the good of the country,” he said.
Administration lawmaker Isabela Rep. Edwin Uy also allayed fears of extending the term of Mrs. Arroyo in the move to amend the Charter.
“There is no plan to extend the term of incumbent officials, including the President under the proposed resolution to amend the Constitution,” he declared.
Still another administration ally, Rep. Matias Defensor of Quezon City, said Cha-cha would not succeed without the participation of the Senate.
“If they intend to bypass the Senate, then forget about Cha-cha. The Supreme Court will not allow it,” he said.
With Kampi resuming its signature collection for Cha-cha via con ass, there will be two parallel Cha-cha efforts in the House.
Nograles is leading the move with his Resolution 737, which proposes to amend certain economic provisions of the Charter to relax foreign ownership restrictions of land and some businesses.
According to Nograles, his resolution would take the legislative process route, which means that it would be sent to the Senate for its own consideration once the House approves it.
Kampi’s effort is via Congress convening itself as a con ass, which, unlike Nograles’ resolution that is limited in scope, can subject the entire Constitution to amendments.
Kampi also intends to bypass the Senate, an intention that its president, Camarines Sur Rep. Villafuerte, has repeatedly made clear.
Nograles’ Cha-cha route is acceptable to the Senate, while Kampi’s House-only con ass is not.
Escudero, as chairman of the Senate committee that would deliberate on the con ass resolution, said they would not entertain the moves emanating from the House.
Escudero also expressed belief that a majority of congressmen do not want to amend the Constitution at this time, but were being “bullied” into signing the con ass resolution.
“I am not convinced that they want this. They are just being pushed and bullied into this,” he said.
Legarda, for her part, said it would be untimely to amend the Constitution before the 2010 election.
She said the Senate is not inclined to support such moves, considering the apparent attempt of administration allies to extend the President’s term beyond 2010.
“They (administration congressmen) can try to ram Cha-cha down our people’s throats at their own risk,” Legarda said.
Sen. Mar Roxas added the Senate would block all attempts to tinker with the Constitution at this time. –With Paolo Romero, Charlie Lagasca, Eva Visperas