MANILA (June 8) – In a night variously described as a “night of ignominy,” a “travesty,” a “charade,” – even a night of “rape” that is worse than the Hayden Kho sex video scandal – allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo approved a House resolution that would create a so-called constituent assembly to amend the Philippine Constitution.
Critics say House Resolution 1109 would pave the way not only for the amendment of the Constitution but for the possible extension as well of Arroyo’s stay in power — a term, which is supposed to end next year, that has been marred by so much political scandal, allegations of corruption, and massive violations of human rights.
The vote adopting HR 1109 came about half an hour before midnight of Tuesday. And a few minutes after the decision was made, calls for protests were already being made through text messages, Twitter and Facebook, which had been abuzz with tweets and updates about the debates and the impending approval of the resolution.
Shouts of “sa kalsada na lang ang labanan! (bring the fight to the streets!)” and pained questions about the future of Philippine democracy reverberated throughout the social-networks, with Twitter and Plurk users providing blow-by-blow accounts and reactions that ranged from bemused to shocked and outraged.
Opposition congressmen tried to block the approval of HR 1109, with some valiantly opposing the apparent railroading of the measure. But the sheer number of Arroyo’s allies was overwhelming.
Shortly before the voting, Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo wondered aloud on the podium why administration representatives suddenly filled the session hall. He said there must have been a “marching order” from Malacanang for them to be present Tuesday night to vote for the measure.
A majority vote, or 134 of the 265 House members, was needed to approve the resolution. Apparently, tonight’s session satisfied this requirement.
The Constituent Assembly, or Con-Ass, is one of three ways that the Constitution can be amended. Under the Con-Ass mode, both houses of Congress can convene to propose changes in the charter.
Early in the debates, which began after 5 p.m. Tuesday, arguments were made that the majority was deliberately misreading the requirements for a Con-Ass, by acting as if it were the only Congress (excluding the Senate) that the rules were referring to.
“We cannot vote alone. We are a bicameral legislature. We should follow first a joint concurrent resolution,” Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Gutierrez, an oppositionist congressman, pointed out during the debates.
There were also concerns that HR 1109 was too vague and lacked specifics to allow an informed vote. The resolution, said Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, “is so hollow that it does not specify what exactly are we going to vote for.”
“Tonight,” Ilagan said, “is a night of ignominy. We witnessed the tyranny of numbers.”
During the interpellation of the sponsors of the resolution, the progressive bloc in the House took turns lambasting the majority and the administration for railroading Con-Ass.
Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo said the “public is entitled to know why there is need to change the Constitution,” pointing out that majority of Filipinos oppose Cha-cha, according to the latest SWS survey that says 42% of Filipinos are not in favor of amending Constitution.
Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza decried the absence of consultation for the measure, particularly among the marginalized sector. “No resource persons from marginalized sectors were invited to committee hearings to hear their positions,” she said.
Why the rush? What is the reason? Will the world disappear tomorrow if we don’t approve HR 1109? Will the Philippines disappear?” Maza said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares wondered what would kind of constitution the Congress would create when it did not even consult the public. “This is a terrifying night,” Colmenares said. “Let us not allow Arroyo to surpass Marcos,” he said, referring to the late dictator’s many years in power.
Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod asked his colleagues what good the Cha-cha will bring to ordinary Filipinos, the unemployed, the OFWs and those affected by the financial crisis.
The denunciations went on into the night, with Rep. Edno Joson of Nueva Vizcaya likening the night’s vote to a rape. Kabataan partylist Rep. Raymond Palatino called the impending vote “worse than the Hayden Kho scandal,” referring to the sex video scandal riveting the nation.
There were intense moments during the debates, as when Bukidnon Rep. Teofisto Guingona III delivered what seemed to Arroyo allies like a privilege speech and not an interpellation.
“Arroyo has destroyed many institution of our government and has removed the faith of Filipinos in these institutions,” Guingona said. This, he said, referring to HR 1109, “is the first step toward changing the Constitution with one aim: to let Arroyo remain in power indefinitely.”
House security also initially prevented people from entering the gallery, with many of them ending up drenched by the rain outside the Congress halls. This prompted Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casino Jr. to take the floor and asked his colleagues: “This is the house of the people. Why are we preventing them from entering?” (Bulatlat.com)