POSTSCRIPT / April 21, 2009 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Villar hits ethics body for ‘premature’ report

CHA-CHA PLOY: The House of Representatives has opened formal discussion of a resolution to amend the Constitution to allow the acquisition by foreign corporations and associations of alienable public lands and private lands.

Resolution 737 authored by Speaker Prospero Nograles seems like an innocuous economic measure. But it is widely suspected as a ploy to open the Charter for wide-ranging amendments, or even revision, by Congress convened as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass).

Nograles said last week that as the House takes up his proposal, he would also open deliberation on a resolution of Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte, head of President Gloria Arroyo’s Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) party, calling for a Con-Ass.

He announced that 175 congressmen have signed the Con-Ass resolution, 22 short of Villafuerte’s target of 197 signatures that the Bicol congressman said are needed to bypass the Senate to push Cha-cha.

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OBJECTION: Like most Filipinos, I am against Charter change before 2010. While the badly written 1987 Constitution needs massive rewriting, this is not the right time (during the term of President Arroyo) to do it.

I am also against Nograles’ Resolution 737 allowing aliens to buy and own land in the country by relaxing the ownership restrictions in Article 12, Sections 2 and 3, of the Constitution.

My reason is simple. Unlike big countries such as the United States that allow aliens to buy land, the Philippines is too small to survive its being sold piecemeal. I doubt if Filipinos are ready to outbid carpetbaggers coming in on a buying spree.

We could just wake up one morning to see vast tracts owned and fenced off by moneyed foreigners with the natives outside-looking in or let in as hired menial workers.

If it is just use of the land that foreign investors want, they can always lease an area for an extended period. They do not have to buy it.

Even now, without holding title to real estate, foreigners are already in control of choice valuable property to the exclusion of the natives. And Nograles wants us to open up completely?

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LEGAL OBSTACLE: The Con-Ass game plan of bypassing the Senate by the expedience of mustering a House vote equivalent to “three-fourths of all its (Congress) members” needed for amendment will run into legal obstacles.

Villafuerte sets at 197 the number of votes constituting three-fourths of all members of Congress, regardless of whether they are congressmen or senators.

But the House of Representatives is not the two-chamber Congress. By themselves, all the congressmen standing solid in the floor cannot misrepresent themselves to be the Congress and proceed to amend the Constitution on a three-fourths vote.

There are no indications that the Senate will collude with the House in amending the Charter before the 2010 election.

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TIGHT CIRCLE: In the Senate, there are only 24 members, divided into those who style themselves as opposition and those who occasionally speak or vote for the administration. Those who have not decided their partisan color call themselves independent.

The membership can also be cut into the majority who voted recently for Juan Ponce Enrile as Senate president and the minority who did not. The majority, holding the key committees, rules.

In that small chamber, there are at least four members openly maneuvering to become President of the Republic. An equal number lust for the same office but are still too coy to say so.

Some of those with presidential plans get involved in infighting as they jockey for the starting line for 2010. So that even in the internal matter of examining the conduct of their peers, presidential politics come into play.

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ETHICS REPORT: One question now rocking the Senate is how come an ethics committee report was signed and circulated even before the group could meet April 15 and deliberate on a complaint filed against Sen. Manny Villar.

It seems that presidential politics reared its head in the committee’s handling of a complaint of Sen. Jamby Madrigal that Villar was involved in the double funding for a C-5 road extension in Paranaque.

The Department of Public Works and Highways, btw, maintained there was no double funding on the project.

The committee report was signed by Senators Ping Lacson, chairman; Richard Gordon, vice chairman; Greg Honasan, member; and Miguel Zubiri, majority floor leader.

Senate Minority Leader Nene Pimentel called for a revamp of the ethics committee for “unethical conduct.” As we write this, Villar and some members of the committee were locked in a heated exchange on the floor.

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PREJUDGMENT: Pimentel said: “The ethics committee report is null and void, and we will certainly resist its implementation all the way.”

He pointed out that Section 17 of the rules provides that the committee members first deliberate on any report or findings before it can be approved by the members by signing it. But before the meeting, he said, “there was already a decision, casting doubt on the integrity of the report.”

“We should set it right first and then the committee can proceed as it sees fit by following its own rules,” he added. “It is not correct that they disregard the rules and just do what they want to do.”

Villar sees 2010 as the reason for the bias of the Lacson committee. “Based on the composition of the committee, we cannot expect fairness from it. What is happening is to be expected until 2010.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 21, 2009)

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