House backs down on Con-Ass
By Maricel Cruz and William Depasupil, Reporters; James Galvez, Researcher
Manila---Faced with threats of massive protests against the planned constituent assembly (Con-Ass), President Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives said on Saturday that they would settle for a constitutional convention (Con-con).
At a press conference marred by a shouting match between historian and opposition figure Renato Constantino and pro-Charter-change advocates, Speaker Jose de Venecia and other House leaders said they would heed demands by Church and business groups, and the political opposition, to halt their attempt to unilaterally change the 1987 Constitution.
De Venecia said the decision was also prompted by a desire to gift the Philippines with a peaceful Christmas.
But the House majority threatened to still push through with constituent assembly if the Senate failed to pass, within 72 hours from Monday, a bill approving the election of Con-con delegates simultaneously with the May 14, 2007, elections.
De Venecia, who faced a breakaway Friday from Metro Manila legislators opposed to the postponement of the May polls, said it was just one among several proposals contained in the majority’s constituent assembly plans.
He urged the Senate, which has unanimously voted to reject Con-Ass, to pass a Con-Con bill.
Unlike the planned Con-Ass, which would have forced a two-thirds vote of the two chambers voting as one, de Venecia said the Senate and the House should vote separately on the Con-con proposal.
De Venecia, a key ally of President Arroyo, warned that if the Senate did not agree to the new proposal, the House would proceed with its original plan to form itself into a constituent assembly to rewrite the Constitution without the Senate’s consent.
“While awaiting the Senate to respond for constitutional convention, we are willing to postpone constituent assembly in the few days,” the Speaker said.
The President’s political adviser, Gabriel Claudio, said the executive department had joined de Venecia’s call for “the whole of Congress, Senate and House combined, to immediately call for the constitutional convention.”
Other Malacañang officials tried to distance the executive branch from the controversy maintained as well President Arroyo’s stand for Charter change to enable the country to move forward economically and politically.
“We respect the divergent views of other groups on Charter change but we don’t have to resort to hysterics,” Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said. “We believe we can, and should, move this democratic struggle for change in a sober and reasoned manner.”
“We don’t think there is any quarrel regarding the need for enhancing political stability and economic growth which should redound to the benefit of all Filipinos,” he added.
Pressure Senate, too
De Venecia insisted the administration coalition was not throwing the towel on the issue of Charter change. The Sigaw ng Bayan and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines (ULAP), he noted, have filed a second motion for reconsideration with the Supreme Court.
In challenging the Senate to draft a bill for the Con-con, de Venecia said: “Then let this become a nonpartisan effort to effect urgent political reforms through Charter change. But if the Senate ignore this challenge, then we say they are morally bound to join us in the constituent assembly.”
In a more emotional tone, he challenged religious groups, nongovernment organizations, and to professional and business groups, to pressure the Senate to “put its votes where its mouth is.”
Also present in the conference were: Rep. Gilberto Teodoro Jr. Rep. Jurdin Jesus Romualdo, Rep. Michael John Duavit, Rep. Eduardo Veloso of the NPC. Representatives Eric Singson, Guillermo Cua and Miles Roses of LP, Kampi Representatives Maria Amelita Villarosa and Luis Villafuerte; and Representatives Juan Miguel Zubiri, Benhur Abalos, Arthur Defensor and Prospero Nograles of Lakas CMD.