POSTSCRIPT / October 4, 2005 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Disqualify ConAss solons from holding public office

LIKELY ROUTE: It is highly probable that amendments to the Constitution will be by a Constituent Assembly — that is, with both chambers of Congress convening in joint session to propose amendments by a three-fourths vote of all its members.

Convening Congress into a Constituent Assembly (ConAss) is one of three ways of amending the charter under Article XVII. The other methods are by a Constitutional Convention (ConCon) or a direct People’s Initiative.

Electing or appointing ConCon members and going through a People’s Initiative are too costly and complicated. Taking the line of least resistance, it is likely that those in control of the process will resort to a Constituent Assembly.

It is possible that our senators and congressmen may just convene themselves into a Constituent Assembly to propose amendments or revisions to the Constitution. (That is, if senators can get over their fear of losing their status upon their absorption into one legislature.)

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SAFEGUARDS: Since a Constituent Assembly seems to be the mode most likely to be used if the charter were to be amended in the next two years, we should adopt safeguards against possible violations of the public trust.

One safeguard I propose is: All senators and congressmen who accept membership in the Constituent Assembly, as well as members of their families, shall be disqualified from holding public office for the next 10 years after the amended charter takes effect .

The purpose of this safeguard is obvious: To prevent senators and congressmen from using their ConAss membership to insert amendments that promote their own interests or that of the vested groups behind them.

Lawmakers who will not accept this condition prior to the convening of the Constituent Assembly must be disqualified for ConAss membership.

Those accepting membership must sign a formal covenant accepting in advance a transitory provision to be inserted into the charter for their 10-year disqualification from public office.

If such a ban is not written into the revised Constitution, we urge the people to reject the amended charter.

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CONCOM CREATED: Right now, none of the three modes of amending the charter has been initiated. We have, so far, only the creation by President Gloria Arroyo of a Consultative Commission (ConCom) to help in the preparations for possible charter change.

But even before they could hear the views of ConCom members, some opposition politicians are already attacking the advisory body.

This is unfortunate. The constructive attitude, I think, should be for us to listen first to all voices that may help us form our own opinion leading to the amendment, if so desired, of the basic charter.

That the ConCom is a creation of President Arroyo seems to be enough reason for the usual anti-GMA sectors to presume that nothing good would come out of the body composed of some 40 respected Filipinos from various sectors.

Why don’t we first see how the ConCom will carry out its instructions before we condemn it?

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PREPARATIONS: Under Executive Order 453 creating it, the ConCom’s instruction is simply to gather, refine and organize suggestions on what amendments should be adopted to lift our nation from the rut into which it has fallen.

The body has chosen its officers, formed various working committees, and has been meeting four days a week to meet its December 15 deadline to submit to President Arroyo its report and recommendations.

The Presidential Management Staff has been looking after its administrative needs since the ConCom is not a regular adjunct of government. After P10 million was made available for its work, the group was advised that no additional amount may be coming.

Some members told us that they have been spending their own money and asking civic-minded friends to help them review and update previous studies on charter change. They will soon go into public consultations to gain breadth and depth in the discussions.

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THREE MODES: One criticism against the Consultative Commission is that such a move of the President is not one of three processes provided in the Constitution for proposing amendments.

Ergo, some critics say, the ConCom is extra-constitutional and therefore must be rejected.

For reference, we looked up Article XVII that provides for the three modes of charter revisions:

  1. Constituent Assembly— An amendment approved by a three-fourths vote of all ConAss members “shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the approval of such amendment or revision.”
  2. Constitutional Convention— “The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.”

Any amendment under this mode “shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than 60 days nor later than 90 days after the certification by the Commission on Elections of the sufficiency of the petition.”

  1. People’s Initiative— Amendments may also be “directly proposed by the people through initiative upon a petition of at least 12 per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered voters therein.” No amendment is allowed under this mode more often than once every five years after the Constitution’s ratification in 1987.

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PURELY PERSUASIVE: A reading of EO 453 creating the Consultative Commission and the minutes of its initial deliberations show that it does not claim or pretend to be one of the modes cited for revising the Constitution.

Its task is clear, at least to this taxpayer, and it is merely to suggest possible amendments based on its members’ own study and their public consultations. Any Filipino is free to make suggestions.

The ConAss and the ConCon, two of the modes mentioned in the charter, are to propose amendments TO THE PEOPLE in a plebiscite called for the purpose. The people then make the ultimate decision to adopt or reject the proposed amendments.

On the other hand, the Consultative Commission will propose possible amendments TO THE PRESIDENT, not to the people. If she so desires, the President may forward them to the ConAss or to the ConCon, whichever is convened.

The ConAss or the ConCon may accept, simply note, reject or take whatever action, on the ConCom recommendations passed on to it by the President.

In short, the amendments to be suggested by the Consultative Commission are purely persuasive. They can be ignored altogether. Nobody need fear that they will be rammed through.

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PUBLIC OFFICE: Are the Consultative Commission members public officials?

Some ConCom members themselves asked the question in their organizational meeting last week. The answer given them was that they were not public officials.

The point was raised partly because there were some members who felt they would have to resign at least one other public office that they held or else be accused of holding several concurrent public offices.

Will the ConCom members be disqualified from running for or holding public office under the amended Constitution? They have not reached that point in their discussions, but I think they should be disqualified — in the same spirit that we say that ConAss members be disqualified for 10 years.

My key point is that anybody who has had a hand in drafting or revising the Constitution must not profit from it.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 4, 2005)

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