Con Ask: A Forum on HR 1109 Possibilities and Challenges
The Constitution has not been violated — yet. According to Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Dean Emeritus of the Ateneo de Manila Law School and renowned constitutional expert, HR 1109 expresses the intent to “gang rape” the Constitution, but the actual violation has yet to occur.
Our 1987 Constitution states that constitutional amendments “may be proposed by congress” but it does not specify whether or not the House of Representatives (HOR) and the Senate must be in joint session. Fr. Bernas is of the opinion that “what the Constitution does not prohibit it allows,” therefore with or without HR 1109, the HOR already is a Constituent Assembly. As such, it can propose amendments at any time. However, Fr. Bernas stressed that any amendments proposed by the HOR must be approved by the Senate.
HR 1109 stipulates that the HOR and the Senate would vote jointly—not separately—to amend the 1987 Constitution. Clearly, the HOR seeks to render the Senate useless, because the larger House membership could override any Senate objections to proposed amendments. Is this constitutional? Could the HOR actually proceed without the Senate?
Fr. Bernas says it could, but only if the Supreme Court is complicit. In which case, it would play out this way: The HOR would bring the amended Constitution to COMELEC for a plebiscite. A case would be brought before the Supreme Court. Supreme Court would rule that the proposed amendments were valid even without Senate approval. The plebiscite would proceed and the Filipino people would vote on the amended Constitution.
The approval of HR 1109 has sparked outrage from multi-sectoral groups all over the country who fear that charter amendments could pave the way for the Arroyo administration to remain in power. How real is the threat of term extension? Sec. Dinky Soliman described four possible scenarios:
- …The Supreme Court decides that a Senate less CONASS is valid. Plebiscite continues, it is a yes victory and the election of May 10, 2010 is an election for a parliamentary form of government. GMA runs on a district in Pampanga. She wins and becomes eventually the Prime Minister.This scenario assumes that the outraged and protest from the citizenry is weak.
- …The Supreme Court declares that Congress is a bicameral body therefore the Senate is needed. Election fever catches up. A presidential election is held in May 10, 2010.This scenario assumes that there is significant citizen’s lobby to stop CONASS and chahcha. The citizen’s actions is a major influence in the assessment and judgement of the justices in the Supreme Court.
- …There is building outrage from the citizens and more street actions are undertaken. Malacanang rides on the anger of the people and organizes violent incidents that will then be the basis for emergency rule. This scenario assumes that citizen’s actions are not organized and disciplined which creates the conditions for infiltration and manipulated violence from the enemies of democracy.
- …The debate and deliberation in the Supreme Court takes a long time and it gets overtaken by election on May 10, 2010. GMA runs for Congress in Pampanga she wins, the administration candidates win too. They get the Supreme Court go ahead and convenes a Constituent Assembly, converts Congress into a parliament and GMA is elected as Prime Minister. This scenario assumes that the 2010 election is dominated by the allies of GMA and her candidates wins. This scenario assumes that transactional politics was the dominant practice and cheating, vote buying and killing will be the norm in the election of 2010. This means the citizen’s action was weak and we failed to educate and mobilize active citizenship.
Fr. Bernas emphasized that term extension would only be possible with the cooperation of the Supreme Court and the military.
When asked if there was any indication which way the Supreme Court would rule, Sec. Soliman replied that presently the justices are being very careful. They know the implications of their decision and cannot be seen as having a position. Political analysts have raised the question, will “utang na loob” prevail in a decision made by GMA-appointed justices? Based on past decisions, Sec. Soliman said that the Supreme Court has shown that it is independent.
Sec. Soliman was less optimistic about the military. AFP Chief Lt. Gen. Delfin Bangit’s loyalties clearly lie with GMA. He served as her PSG commander and she is an adopted member of his PMA Class (Class ’78). It does not seem unlikely that Gen. Bangit would be complicit to a repeat of the 2004 presidential elections in which ranking military officers participated in massive election fraud or to emergency rule.
According to Rep. Guingona, right now there is a lot of confusion in the House. Even the proponents of the HR 1109 are all saying different things, no one seems to know what will happen next. What is clear is that (1) HR 1109 is the first overt step to change the constitution; and (2) There is a mastermind behind all this.
Rep. Guingona recounted the events at the House on June 2: “We were supposed to take up land reform. They did not continue… And you could feel their battering ram, like a railroad, you could feel the pressure. Let’s do this, let’s do this. They were ramming it on us… Imagine, this is changing the Constitution. And after four measly hours of debate, of interpellation, suddenly somebody stands up and moves that we close the debate and go into voting… Terrible, sickening, disheartening.”
“It is true, there was a threat. Those who would go against this charter change would receive no pork barrel,” said Rep. Guingona. “The CDF… is what is being used to control the congressmen and their votes.” Neither the CDF nor the funds for various pump-priming projects have been released.
HR 1109 is clearly just the tip of the iceberg. It is part of a much larger plot, but at this point no one is sure what that plot is. Term extension is a possibility, but there may be others that have not yet been identified. All we know is that it represents an insidious threat to our democracy.
What can we ordinary citizens do? We can be informed and be vigilant. We can express an opinion and make our voices heard. We can write our congressmen or write letters to the editor. We can raise awareness and educate others using our mobile phones, our blogs and our social networks. We can engage our families, our friends and our communities in dialogue. We can get involved with groups and organize rallies, concerts, foras and various other activities.
We cannot afford to sit back and be passive observers; there is too much at stake. If we want to live in a democratic society we need to fight for it. Now is the time to make our stand.