First of 3 parts
THE project to amend the Constitution by a dubious Ramos-era outfit called Pirma is intended to get House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez to succeed his cousin Ferdinand Marcos Jr. when the latter steps down in 2028 and to let him change our most fundamental law in any way he pleases.
This is not only based on his cousin Sen. Imee Marcos’ disclosures that Romualdez is behind the conspiracy and that somehow, P20 million has been or will be given to each congressman who supports the conspiracy.
Study the facts, and you will be outraged at how this disgraceful project intends to do it. The proponents’ propaganda that the Constitution will be amended to reform the economy — removing restrictions on foreign investments — is a total lie.
The amendment Pirma is proposing and asking people to sign solely involves Section 1 of the Constitution, which stipulates that “any amendment to, or revision of this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members.”
Romualdez’s Pirma and its operator want to insert two crucial words in this section — that Congress will be “voting jointly,” i.e., the House and the Senate will be melded to form one entity that would make and vote on proposals to change the Constitution.
I don’t think the people who signed Pirma’s petition and many opinion writers supporting Romualdez and his plot realize how drastically this will result in a situation in which Romualdez will be able to determine how the Constitution is to be changed, especially to convert our two-chamber legislature into a parliamentary system, or versions of it, that will allow him to become head of government.
This “people’s initiative” has nothing to do with the people: it’s a plot by and for Romualdez to capture power after his cousin steps down — or even before that.
That provision in the current Constitution means that the two chambers of Congress, the 315-member House of Representatives and the 24-member Senate, vote separately in their chambers on whether to propose an amendment to the Constitution.
Big businessman and Pirma head Noel Oñate — the group’s sole visible operator other than his lawyer and its staff — claims that the Constitution is silent on whether the House and the Senate will vote jointly or separately.
This reflects the ignorance of this former factotum of the late President Fidel V. Ramos over our system for the people’s representation in lawmaking and the process required to pass each piece of legislation. A bill is passed by at least a majority vote, or 158 of the 315 congressmen, which bill is then sent (or a similar bill in the Senate consolidated with it) to the 24-member Senate to be passed by a majority vote of just 13. If ordinary laws are made to go through such a process, the same procedure must necessarily be complied with in changing our basic law called the Constitution. The Constitution even sets a higher standard for amending it, requiring not just a majority vote by each chamber but three-fourths.
Based on the same principle, under the 1987 Constitution, for Congress to propose an amendment to it, 236 (three-fourths) of the 315 representatives and at least 18 senators must separately approve the proposal. In this current setup, hell will have to freeze over before 18 senators agree to change our system to a parliamentary one, in which Romualdez would easily become prime minister.
And after all, what senator would be so stupid as to give up his or her mass support of millions of voters — which, even in the case of several senators, cost P5 billion to build up over many years — that got him into the Senate?
An otherwise intelligent opinion columnist at the Philippine Star, now the Pirma’s de facto publication, wrote: “But if the people’s initiative gains ground, the Senate could be obliged to sit as equals with their colleagues in the House and vote jointly as a single constituent assembly.”
But senators are certainly not equal with “their colleagues” in the House. Once a political science professor, does this columnist know what Congress is?
Indeed, I shudder at the thought that under the Romualdez initiative, the House of Representatives — most of whose members got to their posts by vote-buying or political nepotism and by about just 200,000 votes — will amend our Constitution, the basic document that created our nation.
The Romualdez amendment, by way of Pirma, will throw into the garbage bin our two-chamber principle that has been in place since the Republic’s birth. Under the Romualdez plan, the two chambers of Congress will vote jointly; that is, the 315 representatives and the 24 senators will as one body of 339 members. Three-fourths of that — 254 — would be enough for a proposal to pass under the Pirma petition.
This means that the 24 senators — who were elected by 90 percent of Filipinos to represent them — will have totally no say in amending the Constitution. Even if all 24 senators, together with the 28 opposition district congressmen and half (31) of the 63 party-list representatives were to vote against a proposal to amend the Constitution — for a total of 83 — Romualdez would still have 256 voting for the proposal, much more than the three-fourths required to get a proposal to amend the Constitution.
It will be a walk in the park for the Romualdez-controlled entity to get its proposals adopted as amendments to the Constitution. The Constitution provides that “an amendment shall be valid when ratified by a majority of the votes cast in a plebiscite which shall be held not earlier than sixty days nor later than ninety days after the approval of such amendment or revision.”
All it has to do is to discourage voters from participating. For instance, it could just get a 38 percent plebiscite turnout, in which just 50.2 percent of that figure votes for its proposal — the figures in the Columbia referendum in 2016 that junked the peace plan with its rebels its elites opposed. Or the congressmen will be ordered to mobilize their constituents using government resources to vote for its proposals; the opposition has no resources to do that.
Many commentators have bought into the snake oil that Romualdez has been selling, that lifting alleged restrictions on foreign investments and shifting to a parliamentary form of government during this period is absolutely necessary to grow the economy.
Read the actual document people are being asked to sign, guys.
Nowhere is there a commitment for the Romualdez-created entity to propose undertaking such amendments. Even Pirma’s head Oñate couldn’t explain to me what amendments the Constitution needs, except that insertion of the “voting jointly” phrase.
The Romualdez entity, most definitely, will propose the installation of a parliamentary system consisting of ministers voted on the local district level just like the House of Representatives. Romualdez, in such a situation, will certainly be elected prime minister in such a system.
The Romualdez entity may even propose an elaborate government system in which there is a president and a prime minister, as in France, Russia, China and even Indonesia. I can just imagine Romualdez saying: “We will benefit from Bongbong’s successful stint as president and his passion for state visits that he’ll be a good president. I’m hands-on, so I will be the prime minister managing the government.”
The Romualdez entity may even decide to forget all the talk over the lifting of foreign capital in the country. This is because many of our oligarchs who have much influence on the likes of Romualdez and the political elite already have foreign companies as major investors, made through clever legal technicalities. Foreign firms that would enter upon the lifting of the constitutional restrictions will certainly not be their partners but powerful competitors.
Romualdez knows that even with the purported billions of pesos in funds that he can mobilize, he doesn’t have the charisma nor the gravitas to win the presidency, which requires those two qualities. Representatives elected on the local level, though, can easily be bought who would choose him as prime minister. In the current Constitutional setup, each of the 24 senators — because of the millions that voted them into office and their exposure on a national level — has some chance to be president.
That makes his Pirma plot so necessary, no matter how preposterous it really is when examined, no matter if the Supreme Court ruled as unconstitutional the three similar attempts in the past to amend the Constitution, no matter how deep the suspicion among Filipinos that such moves are merely power-perpetuating attempts.
Supporting Romualdez’s plot is just like signing a pact with the Devil, who promises all happiness but, in the fine print, will result in misery and bondage to the Deceiver.
First, Bongbong, then his cousin Martin as fathers of the nation. What’s happened to our country?
On Wednesday: Who is Noel Oñate?
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