House Resolution 737 says there will be elections in 2010, and that the terms of office of officials whose terms expire in 2010 will not be extended. It also declares that the terms of those senators elected in 2007 who’re supposed to serve until 2013 will not be shortened.

But don’t break out the champagne yet. This House of ill-repute is not noted for the sanctity of its word. Somewhere along the line, the 2010 elections could still be cancelled, and Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and company’s terms extended. But those prospects aren’t the direst we can expect. The worse is yet to come.

HR 737 was filed by House Speaker Prospero Nograles on Malacanang prodding supposedly to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution in furtherance of “economic reform.” But the resolution also goes out of its way to address public concern that the 2010 elections will be cancelled and Mrs. Arroyo and putrid company will stay on beyond 2010, as well as some senators’ apprehension that amending the Constitution will shorten the six-year terms to which they were elected.

What HR 737 doesn’t do is heed the sentiment of the 70 to 79 percent of the citizenry opposed to amendments, which every survey since 2001 has documented. On that the House apparently will not budge, despite public opinion and the seemingly limited time available for both Houses voting as one to convene as a constituent assembly and to accept and debate amendments.

The usual suspects aren’t worried. They don’t care about public opinion in the first place, and they don’t seem to think that the time’s as limited as people like administration senator and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile think.

The majority last Tuesday showed how quickly it can strike down debate and opposition by shouting it down, and some of its members went so far as to say that by discussing HR737, the House had already convened as a constituent assembly even without a declaration. Cebu Congressman Pablo Garcia said so in his sponsorship speech (“we now begin to discharge our constituent functions…each one of us is now wearing a new hat—the Cha Cha hat.”), with Maguindanao’s Simeon Datumanong conceding the possibility when asked. After all, the majority does have the numbers, and can do what it pleases whatever anyone and the Constitution say.
But as a sop to public outrage over such a raw display of power, the next day Camarines Sur’s Luis Villafuerte filed HR 1109, which would officially convene Congress into a constituent assembly.

Drafted months ago, HR 1109 makes no bones about it: both Houses should vote together in determining whether three-fourths of the members of Congress agree to amend the Constitution via a “con-ass”. The majority now has a choice between convening under a formal declaration via HR 1109, or convening without one via HR 737.
Conclusion: they can still do it, because they want to.

Why this insistence and this determination to amend the Constitution on the part of the House majority and the Arroyo regime to whose beat it’s dancing?
Every sign points to a make or break effort to legitimize policies and plans contrary to the provisions of the Constitution. The extension of the terms of Arroyo and company now seem incidental though still desirable, the main point being to amend such protectionist provisions of the Constitution as the prohibition against foreign ownership of land and the media, as well as the ban on foreign troops in Philippine territory.
The research group Ibon Databank thus warns that among the main intents of Constitutional amendments could be to allow foreign military personnel, including but not limited to US troops, into the country.

Despite the absence of treaties as stipulated by the Constitution, Ibon points out that the Arroyo regime is likely to allow foreign military personnel into the Philippines this May via the US and Philippines’ co-sponsorship of the ASEAN Regional Forum Voluntary Demonstration of Response which will be held in Central Luzon from May 4 -8. Twelve countries will provide military personnel, despite the Constitutional prohibition on foreign troops.

The regime’s most visible circumvention of the ban on foreign troops except under treaty is the Visiting Forces Agreement. But the May exercise would be equally unconstitutional. Ibon says the Arroyo regime certainly knows it, since it has been “holding numerous inter-agency meetings to try and find ways around the prohibition.” To finally settle that problem, the ban could simply be amended out of the Constitution.

The convening of a constituent assembly dominated by its House allies won’t exactly be solely heaven- sent. Rather would it be part of a plan not only to institute the “economic reforms” HR 737 says it’s after, but also to scuttle the ban on foreign troops which since 2002 when the first batch of US troops under the arrived has been particularly problematic to the regime’s policy of pandering to US interests in exchange for political support and economic and military aid.

But given the composition of the House and the focus of its members not only on giving the Palace what it wants, but also its own authoritarian and colonial mindset, the amendments it’s likely to propose won’t end with “economic reforms” and allowing foreign troops into the country without benefit of a treaty. They will also include everything and anything they regard as an obstacle to the realization of the unaccountable power that will worsen the corruption that’s even now ruining the entire country.

Among them are the Bill of Rights, particularly the prohibition on abridging free expression and press freedom, the provision on public access to information, and the elaborate safeguards on a declaration of martial law’s turning the country into a dictatorship.
That is why, like the Terminator, the current House has been unrelenting in its focus on amendments. It will not stop, because that’s what it does; and given its sorry legislative record, that’s all it does.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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