RICKY CARANDANG has the big story from resigned Defense Secretary Nonong Cruz about the sudden visit to Manila of John Negroponte, US Director of National Intelligence last December. Turns out he was here to register strong US opposition to a plan by the Palace to impose martial law late last year. Cruz cites Don Rumsfeld's admonition that the Philippines should uphold democracy and not return to dictatorship. Nonong Cruz declared his own firm opposition to such a plan or intention.
Manolo Quezon scared me last night with a scenario that could unfold as follows...
(1) Jose de Venecia and at least 195 Members of the House of Representatives ("the Lower House") will constitute themselves into an assembly and sign a Piece of Paper proposing amendment and revision of the 1987 Philippine Constitution of Government from Bicameral-Presidential to Unicameral-Parliamentary. (This assumes that the House Speaker can actually assemble a Quorum of at least that many Members of the Lower House.)
(2) Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban retires. The President appoints "Mr. or Ms. XYZ" as Chief Justice, but does not appoint a fifteenth Justice, leaving fourteen (14) incumbent Justices of the Supreme Court.
(3) The Congress submits the Piece of Paper to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for ratification or rejection by plebiscite of the people under the following provisions of the Constitution--
Article XVII - Amendments Or Revisions - Section 1.(4) The Comelec will rule that a plain reading of the 1987 provisions does not allow the Comelec to question the power of the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of the all its Members, to propose any change to the Constitution. Noting also that there is no precedent or prohibition against Comelec approving such petitions, Comelec will indeed schedule a Plebiscite sixty days thence. (And throw the country into a nice little Christmas Turmoil!)
Any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by:
(1) The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members; or
(2) A constitutional convention.
(5) A large contingent of oppositors, led by the Senate and One Voice will immediately file a motion with the Supreme Court for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to stop the Comelec and the Lower House.
(6) But with only fourteen Justices sitting in the High Court, a TRO is not granted because of a 7-7 TIE, leaving the door open for a Plebiscite and the possibility that by Valentines Day 2007, we shall have a newly ratified Unicameral Parliamentary Government. Now what was it they said in Javellana? That the greatest power of the Supreme Court lies in choosing what NOT to do!
Most important of all, the 2007 Midterm Elections will have to be postponed ...
That I suppose is the point of the whole CON-ASS exercise: to junk the 2007 Midterm Elections which looks for all the world like the Palace's worst Nightmare coming to life. But the nice thing about the above scenario is that is about to be put to the test by the inexorable logic and unfolding of real events.
I still think they are out of time. Simple as that. There is not a moment to lose for the Con-Ass pushers however because they pretty much have to have a ratified new Constitution before February 13, 2007, when the campaign period for Senate and party list groups begins. That date is sixty days and less than two weeks away. The Constitution requires a minimum of sixty days before a plebiscite after the Comelec finds a proposal for amendment or revision to be sufficient in form and substance.
Too much to pull off, too little time to do it in before the election fever sets it.
I have been disdainful of the Lower House's pathetic attempts to unilaterally amend and revise the Constitution without the concurrence of the Senate. My view is that even if unanimously signed by all the Members of the Lower House, a House Resolution submitted to the Comelec is obviously Insufficient In Form to qualify as an Act of the Congress, for it is clearly an Act of the Lower House, which is a different animal all together. This point is so clear in my mind, that any Comelec or Supreme Court that would ignore it will suffer history's opprobrium.
I think people like Constantino Jaraula and Luis Villafuerte and even Jose de Venecia probably know this, which is why they have not yet filed such a proposal to amend or revise the charter. What after all, has stopped them from doing so thus far, if not the knowledge that such a House Resolution masquerading as an Act of the Congress will only the suffer the same fate of Pirma and Sigaw: insufficient in form!
By the way, I don't buy the idea that the Supreme Court's 8-7 decision in both People's Initiative cases necessarily reflects the division that would obtain should a Con-Ass resolution reach the High Court. I think the jurisprudence both here and abroad would make it difficult to rule peremptorily that the Senate had a built in disadvantage relative to the House when it comes to charter change proposals. Accepting the idea that it is "voting jointly" means that the Senate is largely irrelevant because of its numerical inferiority.