Saving the Republic: Filipinos Say ‘NO’ to HR 1109

by Caela

Thousands of Filipinos protested at the nations busiest bussiness and commercial district to demand that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo allies to drop plans to re-write the Philippine 1987 Constitution before the 2010 Presidential Election. Photo courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Thousands of Filipinos protested at the nations' busiest bussiness and commercial district to demand that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo allies to drop plans to re-write the Philippine 1987 Constitution before the 2010 Presidential Election. Photo courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer.

MANILA. Today, 12th June 2009, the Philippines celebrates her 111th year of freedom amid massive outcry of a visibly upset public who branded the congressional representatives who voted yes to HR 1109 as “traitors” of the Republic of the Philippines. On the eve of Independence Day, the police estimated that 8,000 protesters (organizers estimated around 13,000) gathered at Ayala Avenue, Makati City. The five-hour rally ended promptly at 9 p.m. with protesters ending the program with the nationalist song “Bayan Ko” (My Country) while holding lit candles, and then quietly dispersing.

Similar protest coinciding with the Makati protest were also held on major cities all over the country to show the public’s indignation while three cases for intervention on HR 1109 were brought to the Supreme Court and on 10th June, the Philippine Senate voted unanimously on a resolution “expressing the sense of the Senate that any attempt by the House of Representatives to unilaterally propose amendments to, or revision of, the Constitution without the approval by three-fourths of the Senate voting separately is unconstitutional.”

Read the Lozano-Edriano intervention case filed to the Supreme Court of the Philippines >>

Meanwhile, coinciding with the celebrations for the 111th anniversary of Philippine Independence, first time voters flooded Philippine Embassies around the world and Commission on Election offices and registration centers around the country to register for the 2010 Presidential Election showing their support to the Republic and the desire to choose a new leader.

The Controversial House Resolution

On the 3rd of June, Filipinos woke up to the news of the approval of the controversial HR 1109 seeking to convene the Philippine Congress to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution on a joint vote. The House of Representative tightened the security of Batasan Pambansa making it difficult for people to attend the plenary deliberations.  The blanket resolution was passed with 171 “ayes” close to midnight with only 66 of the 212 legislative districts consulted by their respective representatives and mere eleven (11) months  before the 2010 Presidential Elections.

Read House Resolution No. 1109 >>
Lists of Representatives who voted ‘Aye’ >>

The Malacanang Place has long called on Congress to initiate measures to amend the Constitution to effect a change from the the presidential form to a parliamentary form of government because “our political system has degenerated” to become “a hindrance to progress” and how “we have strained it to its final limits”—part of the President’s State of the Nation Address  in 2005.

Read the 2005 State of the Nation Address of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo >>

Rumors had long been circulating that President Arroyo is seeking to stay in power beyond 2010. This, however, is prohibited by term limits provided by the 1987 Constitution. Proponents claim that the “whereas clause” of HR 1109 prohibits term extensions for incumbent elected officials including Arroyo, the vice-president, senators, congressmen, congresswomen, governors, and mayors whose term expires in 2010. However, Bayan Muna party list Representative Teodoro Casiño said one of the sponsors of the resolution had admitted on the floor that the “whereas clause” in the resolution that prohibits the term extension of the incumbent president and vice president, senators, congressmen, mayors and other elected officials whose term will expire in 2010, and that there would be elections in 2010 was “not binding.”

The Minority Vote

On the eve of the vote, during the floor debate, members of the minority registered their objections.

Nueva Vizcaya Representative Carlos Padilla said the country witnessed a “simple tyranny of the majority” and called the chamber “the worst Congress in the annals of Philippine history.”

“Now Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is poised to destroy the very heart of our republican system…our democracy…Have we no shame? Let us stop this farce immediately,” Bukidnon Representative Teofisto Guingona III said.

“We oppose this, this charade… Let us amend the Constitution after the term of President Arroyo. That is the time to amend the Constitution of the Philippines. The best way to amend the Constitution is by constitutional convention,” said former Speaker and Pangasinan Representative Jose de Venecia Jr.

With the passage Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Nonato Joson likened the country to a woman fighting off a rapist, saying “Huwag po kuya [Please don’t, sir].” “Let us not gang rape our Constitution,” he added.

Parañaque Representative Roilo Golez said the majority pledged to have an exhaustive discussion in plenary of the resolution. “If we cannot trust them [majority] on this very small pledge, how can the people trust the members of this Congress as constituent assembly,” Golez said.

Representative Luz Ilagan of Gabriela party list called the proceedings a “night of ignominy” where the administration allies once again used their numbers to push their agenda.

Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora questioned the haste with which it was being discussed in plenary, with only two session days left and with other key legislation pending for passage. “Why the short cut? Why not go for the long haul, for the harder route? Why not eschew the easy path and make the amendments to the Constitution as important as the role of the committee on constitutional amendments?” Zamora said.

Questioning the extensiveness of consultations held by members of the House, Gabriela party list Representative Liza Maza cites on record that only 66 congressional districts conducted consultations (not quite 1/3 of total). Also only 22 out 31 committee members submitted their consultation reports. Maza doubts that representatives know what their constituents want.

Maza asks why there is a rush to pass HR 1109? “Will the world disappear tomorrow?”

AKBAYAN party list Representative Walden Bello sasy “Was it right that we allowed the leadership to stampede us into this vote?”

Vox Populi

House Speaker Prospero Nograles said street protesters were not a part of a legislative process. “Are we going to stop because of street demos and public outcry?” he said in a text message.

It is interesting to note the above comment of the “Representative” of Davao City and House Speaker Nograles when back in his constituency people are marching to say “no to Con Ass, no to HR 1109, no to Gloria Forever” and tell the Philippines that “Davao is not Nograles and Nograles is not Davao.”

Five different impeachment cases later, the Malacanang Palace and the House of Representatives has shown once again that it can play any tune it desires and dance it, and this time, they are dancing the Cha-cha (as the Charter Change is popularly nicknamed in the country). Time and time again, Representatives failed to listen to their constituencies on important issues. But the 2007 National and Local Elections showed that the people are determined to have their say placing the coalition of oppositions as the Senate majority removing the Senate from Palace influence.

“We are appalled at the indecency and blatant disregard of the Filipino people’s will displayed by the House of Representatives in its adoption of House Resolution No. 1109 that allows itself to convene as a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution, without the necessary participation of the Senate,” the business groups said in a joint statement.

Moreover in a statement of former President Joseph Estrada, he said, “This administration has deprived the Filipino masses of their chosen leader not just once, when they ousted me, but twice, when they cheated FPJ (Fernando Poe Jr.) in the 2004 elections. We will not allow the people to be deprived of having a duly elected president a third time.”

Read the open letter to the members of the Philippine House of Representatives >>

The people now places their trust to the magistrates of the Supreme Court as the last battle ground againsts HR 1109, most of whom were appointed by President Arroyo. When people could not trust their Representatives on the vote on HR 1109, how else would they trust their representatives to protect their interest on the constitution vote?

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