HOUSE leaders warned that “anything goes in the plenary” when a resolution calling for changes in the economic provisions of the Constitution could lead to the introduction of political changes as well by allies of President Benigno Aquino III, who want to give him a second term.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said despite Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.’s pledge to limit the proposed amendments to the Charter’s economic provisions, they would be unable to block efforts by some to open the floodgates to political changes.
At the Ugnayan sa Batasan forum Tuesday, Gonzales said even without filing a resolution on political provisions, any lawmaker can insert political amendments while the resolution on economic provisions was being taken up.
Gonzales, an LP party whip, also said President Aquino’s pronouncement was a game changer that caught even House leaders unaware.
He said the House leadership would take up the “new development” with the President and the LP leaders to seek a direction, since the Palace has claimed that the President did not say he wanted re-election.
The leftist bloc in Congress raised a howl at the possibility, saying the Belmonte-sponsored resolution was being used as a vehicle for a “more nasty and sinister plot” to extend President Aquino’s term.
They tagged Aquino as being behind the plot, after he hinted that he was open to constitutional amendments to clip the powers of the Supreme Court, which had declared parts of his Disbursement Acceleration Program unconstitutional.
They added that tampering with the political provisions of the Constitution would be divisive, and urged the public to join the rally in Luneta on Aug. 25 to express their outrage.
“The attempt at Cha-cha is serious and not a mere trial balloon as Malacanang wants the people to think. The Cha-cha resolution is already up for debate and approval in Congress,” House Senior Deputy Minority Leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said.
“Term extension could be proposed anytime during the amendment period and approved especially since 90 percent of Congress support Cha-cha,” said Colmenares.
Some 70 lawmakers who are on their last term could also benefit from a term extension, he added.
Colmenares said Aquino must be condemned for instigating the move the perpetuate those in power, avoid accountability for the DAP and to “continue the evils of pork barrel.”
“The matter of political amendments, particularly term extension, is a divisive issue, even within the majority coalition. This is by no means a sure win for the Liberals,” according to ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio.
“As we have noted before, once you open the floodgates, anything goes. The proponents of a second term are shameless in their disregard of the law and public opinion,” said Bagong Alyansang
Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr., one of the complainants pushing for Aquino’s impeachment.
“The rising Aquino dictatorship must be stopped dead in its tracks,” Reyes said.
Gonzales said once the period of interpellation was terminated, the period of amendments would follow and amendments to political provisions could be subjected to a vote, needing only a simple majority of the quorum to win approval.
But Gonzales, chairman of the House committee on rules, also acknowledged that to approve the Charter change, the Liberals could not do it alone.
He said the approval on second and final reading requires three-fourths of the 290-member House and thus the President’s allies would need the all out support of the LP and other party-allies such as the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the Nacionalista Party, the National Unity Party and the party-list groups.
“The three-fourths would require 200 votes and the LP in the House is only 113. We need the other parties to vote with the LP,” said Gonzales, an LP party whip.
Gonzales said the plenary debate and the showdown on Cha-cha will resume on Tuesday.
“Let the showdown and the numbers game begin,” Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said as she warned the Cha-cha proponents to face the wrath of the public.
“Didn’t we say that all along? It’s like giving a blank check to the Cha-cha proponents,” Ilagan said.
Gonzales said should Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice, a member of LP, file a resolution on political provisions, the proposed measure would also be referred to the committee on constitutional amendments.
The majority leader said the House is racing against time as he predicted that the Cha-cha debates would not be finished in a month.
“The debate and period of amendments could not be finished in one month. After a month when the P2.606 trillion national budget for 2015 reaches the plenary, all debates on bills and resolutions, including the Cha-cha would take a backseat,” Gonzales said.
Gonzales said there were also other bills that needed priority attention by the House such as the still to be transmitted Bangsamoro Basic Law, the anti-dynasty bill and Freedom of Information bill.
He said the Senate, through Senate President Franklin Drilon, expressed the sense that it would not get past the Senate and muster a three-fourths vote.
“It’s a numbers game because the Constitution requires a specific vote,” Gonzales pointed out.
“Nobody can stop anybody from proposing an individual amendment. It’s up to the body to decide to accept it or not. But as I have said, at the end of the day we’re going to need to muster three-fourths vote,” Gonzales said.
He said before the House would call an all-party caucus to determine after they determine the President’s real intention.
“Before we hold a caucus, we have to determine what’s the President’s intention is. Does he really have a plan or was that statement made out of frustration? We really do not know,” Gonzales said.
Earlier, Gonzales reiterated Belmonte’s position that any amendments to the Constitution would be economic in nature.
Gonzales also played down reports that members of the ruling LP have already consolidated behind a “tactical plan” for changes to the political provisions of the Constitution.
Senate President Franklin Drilon on Tuesday said the Liberal Party still has no official stand on a second term for the President.
“We have not discussed that,” said Drilon in an interview after a budget hearing at the Senate.
In an earlier interview on Monday, Drilon noted that the President did not come out and say he wanted a second term.
“I was reading the transcript of the TV 5 interview, there was nothing there that said the President is interested in a second term. Malacanang has already said the President will not push for Charter amendments during his term. I think the issue is over. We keep beating a dead horse,” Drilon said.
He also dimsissed claims that the President gave out mixed signals when he announced he is open to constitutional amendments and for a second term.
Another administration ally, Senator Francis Escudero, said he would block any move in the Senate to change any provision in the Constitution.
He said he particularly objected to extending term limits to give Aquino or any sitting president a fresh mandate after six years.
Escudero said the best time to pursue talk of Charter change was at the start of an administration to avoid speculation.
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