Friday, January 20, 2006

CONSTITUTION PROPOSED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES : Bribery as the Highest Law of the Land

CODAL is concerned that the Constitution proposed by the House of Representatives and currently used as a ‘Working Draft’ by the Constitutional Amendments Committee, seeks to gain support through bribery by doling economic and political favors. It seeks to bribe the Senators and opposition members of Congress by dangling the ‘no election’ scenario which will extend their terms to 2010. It hopes to bribe all public officials by extending their terms to 5 years and removing term limits. Its provision increasing the retirement age of the Supreme Court is nothing more than an attempt to influence its decision in support of the proposed Constitution should it be challenged in the judiciary. The proposal also shocked anti-corruption advocates when it deleted the 1987 constitutional provision absolutely prohibiting the reappointment of members of the COMELEC, COA, CSC and the Ombudsman. The proponents also seek to bribe all political parties, including the opposition, by providing for ‘subsidies’ to political parties. It even wants to bribe the Vice-President by giving him at least a ceremonial role and an assured cabinet post in the interim parliament. The way the House Majority and the Arroyo administration crafted the unpopular ‘working draft’, the proposed Constitution may be approved and ratified, not on the merits of its proposals but rather on the amount of benefits it doles out.

No Election and No Term Limits

The proposed Constitution seeks to dangle possible term extension to Senators and ALL public officials by providing for a ‘no election’ scenario under Art. XVIII, Sec. 3 :

Sec. 3. However, if in the Plebiscite for the ratification of the foregoing proposed amendments, the people shall decide to set the first elections under the parliamentary system to the second Monday of May 2010, then the interim parliament shall be extended until June 30, 2010.

The deceptive phrase ‘the first election under the parliamentary system’ actually includes all elections—including that of local officials. This is meant to ensure total support by local officials during the ratification campaign for the Constitution. Sec. 3 is also intends to attract support from Senators, including opposition members in the Lower House, whose terms end in 2007. The Senators, however, will be MPs without a district and second class citizens of the ‘Interim Parliament’, a recipe for defeat should these Senators run against the incumbent District MP in the 2010 district elections.
Section 3 of Article VI and Sec. 8, Art. X are additional carrots for all local officials, including current members of Congress as these not only increase their term to ‘five’ years but also abandons the constitutional rule on term limits. Sec. 3 Art. VI provides that “ The Members of Parliament shall be elected … for a term of five years without limit as to the number thereof…”

Sec. 8, Art. X also provides that “ The term of office of elective officials … shall be five years”. The ‘no election’ scenario virtually creates an unaccountable government—a ruthless attack on the principles of democracy and people participation in governance. The ‘no election’ provision and the resulting extension of terms of all elective officials are nothing more than undisguised attempts to bribe members of Congress, including the opposition, in exchange for its support of the proposal and also ensure that Pres. Gloria Arroyo stays in power until 2010.

Increase in Retirement Age of Judiciary

A cause for concern among the legal profession is the threat on the independence of the courts by the sudden increase from the current retirement age of members of the entire judiciary including the Supreme Court in Sec. 11, Art. VIII which provides that :

Sec. 11. The Members of the Supreme Court, and Justices and judges of lower courts shall hold office during good behavior until they reach the age of Seventy-Five (75) years or become incapacitated to discharge the duties of their office. They shall have the option to retire at the age of seventy years with full benefit.

Strangely, this increase from the current retirement age of seventy (70) was never explained by the House proponents especially since this was never raised as an issue against the 1987 Constitution. This is no other than a bribe to members of the Supreme Court who will inevitably tackle the constitutional issue on the constituent assembly and the ratification of the Constitution.

Allows Reappointment for Members of COMELEC, COA, CSC and Ombudsman

The proposed Constitution also seeks to get the support of even the members of the COMELEC, Commission on Audit and the Ombudsman by deleting the phrase ‘without reappointment’ provided for in the 1987 Constitution which absolutely prohibits their reappointment and replacing it with the innocuous “without immediate reappointment” in Art. IX of the House “Working Draft”. The proposed Constitution provides in Article IX [C], Sec. 1 (2) on the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) states:

(2) The Chairman and the Commissioners shall be appointed by the Prime Minister ..for a term the seven years without immediate reappointment. The incumbent chairman and commissioners shall be allowed to serve out their respective terms.

This means that Chairman Benjamin Abalos may be reappointed to the COMELEC after he sits out one term after the end of his tenure. This ‘insertion’ is without any basis considering that the non reappointment of officers like the ‘Ombudsman’ has never been an issue under the 1987 Constitution. This will only make members of the COMELEC, COA or the OMBUDSMAN who hopes to be reappointed, beholden to the Prime Minister and the ruling party during their first term.





Subsidizing Election Campaign of Political Parties

The proposed Constitution also seeks to gain the support of political parties by shockingly providing in Art. IX [C] Sec. 6 that political parties will receive ‘subsidy’ courtesy of the empoverished Filipino people:

Sec. 6. Political parties must be strengthened and must receive equitable subsidy from Government. ..

This broad, unqualified and mandatory provision will surely get the support of political parties who will benefit from the subsidy given them for their election campaigns. While politicians spend money during previous elections, the proposed Constitution makes the people and tax payers spend for the reelection of politicians.

Cabinet Membership for VP De Castro until 2010

Lastly, the proposed Constitution seeks to gain the support of Vice-President Noli de Castro by assuring him of a cabinet post under Sec. 2, Art. XVIII on the Transitory Provisions:

Sec. 2. The incumbent Vice-President shall automatically become Member of Parliament and of the Cabinet until 2010. He shall preside over the Parliament for the immediate election of the Prime Minister, upon nomination of the incumbent President. Thereafter, the Parliament shall elect the Speaker, and both shall assume their respective offices immediately.

Firstly, this provision may be interpreted to grant Pres. Gloria Arroyo the power to nominate the Prime Minister, making the Prime Minister beholden to Pres. Arroyo. Secondly, VP de Castro after presiding for one day over the Parliament, immediately becomes an ordinary MP without a constituency—which makes it difficult for him to successfully run in his district in Mindoro in the 2010 elections. Lastly, since the appointment of cabinet members is at the discretion of the Prime Minister, he may not even be assured of a cabinet post until 2010.

The proposed ‘charter change’ is unpopular according to surveys. The people believe that charter change will not solve poverty as long as the system of corruption and subservience to powerful vested interests remain intact. To circumvent the people’s will, the House Majority plans to get support for its passage by providing provisions that has no relations at all in economic and political reforms, but merely meant to bribe public officials to support the proposed Constitution. This certainly does not augur well for the Filipino people and our aspiration for a better society. CODAL condemns this attempt to win support through bribery in order for powerful politicians to gain and maintain their stranglehold to power.

Reference : Atty. Neri Javier Colmenares (Spokesperson)
Date : January 20, 2005

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