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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

LP strategists trying to calm political waters violently roiled by sudden opening of P-Noy on Cha-cha and term extension. Political Cha-cha alive and kicking, despite Abigail’s denial and Speaker Belmonte’s assurance that House would only amend economic provisions. But should Cha-cha happen, Transitory provision should prohibit P-Noy from running. Battle royale between Gina Reyes and Lord Allan Velasco on eve of HRET meet.


Is “Political Cha-cha” truly dead in the House, as an unnamed House leader recently asserted and featured as the banner of Philippine Star today? The fact, however, that this leader asserting it wants to remain unnamed is indication enough that “political Cha-cha” is far from dead---he or she is wary of displeasing the President who has become “amenable” to term extension and the LP hierarchy strategizing for him. 

Yes, despite Malacanang spokesperson Abigail Valte’s denial in a rather dead-pan manner, that her boss would seek a second term (tough job, huh, Abigail, my sympathies), it looks like the LP strategists and Palace officials are simply trying to calm political waters across the nation violently roiled by the sudden opening by P-Noy on Charter change and term extension.   

They can assert to high heavens that political Cha-cha is dead in the House, but the fact remains that it’s alive and kicking.

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Speaker Sonny Belmonte and his allies seek to assure the nation that amendments they want to push would be confined only to some economic provisions and that others won’t be touched---No to “political Cha-cha” daw. The House Chief argues that economic provisions should be a bit more liberal toward foreign investments, and on this score there's basis enough.

But the way many House members are thinking and acting right now, e.g., demonizing the Supreme Court in retaliation for its ruling on PDAF and sections of DAP as unconstitutional,  and with the Palace’s weak denial of P-Noy’s earlier TV statement, it’s obvious that Belmonte and Co. cannot hold down inclusion of such controversial provisions as lifting of term limits for the President and Congress---once the Cha-cha train starts to roll.  They'd be up against thugs allied with the administration in that same chamber. 

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Once in Congress most solons get to love power and all the trappings that go with it so much, that they'd want nothing better than to be able to run sans the three-term limit they’re strapped to now. As for P-Noy, more than seeking to ensure that his “reform” programs would continue, as his media allies argue, he needs assurance that he won’t go to jail for constitutional violations---or as the Inquirer editorial put it, with his "worst lame-duck fears come to life." In plain language, political survival.   

No, citizens who do not want P-Noy to have a second term and who want to retain the term limit for solons (two terms for senators and three for House members) will just have to derail the Congressional Charter-change train predicted to be pulling out of the station by middle of next year.

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This does not mean I'm closed to Charter amendments---far from it. But I would  not want those sitting in office to decide constitutional amendments, as this crucial exercise would be self-serving for them and would dilute the high moral caliber of such effort.

In 1997, when followers and admirers of President Ramos were campaigning for a shift to parliamentary with FVR to serve as first Prime Minister, I was approached by a dear friend, the late Rome-based Filipino sculptor/painter Tomas Concepcion whom FVR appointed as sectoral representative for Overseas Filipinos (and later decorated by President Arroyo with the Presidential Merit Medal in Rome for his artistic skills). Tom asked if I could support extending FVR's term either as President or as PM. I said that while I admire and respect FVR highly and feel he was quite effective especially in tackling the energy problem inherited from Cory Aquino and handling the MNLF problem, I cannot buy extension of term of any incumbent or automatically installing him as PM.  

Many citizens, including Cory Aquino who “anointed” FVR, felt that way too . Cory argued to him that "no one is indispensable" and draft-FVR fizzled out. Pity she's no longer around to drum the same thing into her son's head.

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I feel the same way today. I feel that we ought to write soon a new Constitution (the very idea enshrined in BayanKo) to enable us to shift to the much-delayed parliamentary/unicameral system. A critical provision, however, should be to bar the incumbent President from participating in the new parliamentary elections, and this prohibiting clause should be categorically stated in the Transitory Provisions, while explicit term limits for MPs and an unambiguously-defined Anti-Dynasty provision should be stated in the main body.

We should have fresh elections for parliamentary districts and the PM elected by the newly-elected MPs.  The latter half of this year and 2015 could be devoted to a nation-wide information campaign on rewriting the Constitution and the  crucial shift in form of government---to be undertaken by the various faiths (this is where the multi-faith National Transition Council would come in), NGOs, professional organizations led by the 50,000-strong IBP, academe, business sector, artists, etc. 

A plebiscite on the Charter could be held on the 29th anniversary of the 1987 Constitution in February 2016 and first parliamentary elections in May that year.   

It would be ideal if P-Noy could be persuaded to campaign for this new Constitution and parliamentary elections in 2016 and then retire as ex-President, with this basic law as his lasting legacy.  It would also be ideal if the members of Congress could put patriotism and love of country first over ambition and self-aggrandizement, and encourage the writing of this new charter and elections with fixed term limits. 

Such occasion would be a rebirth for the nation. We can dream, can't we?

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Marinduque Rep. Gina Ongsiako Reyes

The battle royale in the House between incumbent Marinduque Rep. Gina Ongsiako Reyes and defeated rival Lord Allan Velasco is far from over and complicating ramifications involve the Supreme Court where Velasco’s father, Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, is a member as well as the chair of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

To refresh you readers’ memory, the provincial board of canvassers of Marinduque proclaimed Reyes as rightful winner in 2013, after which she was proclaimed in a mass-swearing in by no less than the President at Malacanang and by Speaker Belmonte at the opening of Congress in July 2013. Since then she has sat as member of the House.

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The first complication came when Comelec began questioning her assumption into office, based on the claim on an anonymous blogger in the Internet that Reyes allegedly is not a Filipino citizen and in fact uses an American passport. On this flimsy basis Comelec is belatedly annulling Reyes' proclamation and declaring Velasco winner; the SC is said to uphold this decision. 

Reyes has fought this issue of her alleged US citizenship and interestingly, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes himself filed a dissenting opinion stating that evidence on hand vs. Reyes (from the unnamed blogger) is mere hearsay.  Interestingly too, the dissenting opinion of an SC justice very clearly stated that the Court and Comelec should not rely on a blog to judge whether a person is Filipino or not.

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In answer to this issue, the Reyes camp asserts that Sec. 17, Art. VI, the “Legislative Department,” of the Constitution provides that all questions pertaining to the election of House members fall under the jurisdiction of the HRET. This constitutional principle has been upheld in the past year, enabling Reyes to stay in office.

Recently, however, in anticipation of convening HRET for the second regular session of the 16th Congress on Aug. 28, the “draft decision” allegedly prepared by a prominent SC justice-member of the HRET is being circulated among its members (a copy was sent to Reyes by a concerned House member). The Reyes camp alleges that this “draft decision” aims to convince Comelec and the SC to belatedly disqualify her in favor of Justice Velasco's son and to allegedly "precondition and influence the disposition by the other (HRET) members of (this) case."

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Reyes is appealing to HRET members to stand by their conviction stated in their earlier ruling upholding her election, and reject the move to install her rival. She also pleads with Speaker Belmonte to protect the dignity of the entire House by granting her a fair hearing where first-hand evidence can be considered before reaching a decision---instead of the only evidence  offered by an internet blog whose author has not been revealed, much less surface. 

Reyes rightly asks, “Is there really such a person at all?" Her camp asserts that neither the Comelec nor SC knows for sure, and yet, there seems to be a concerted effort to ease her out through this “draft decision” on the eve of HRET’s convening. 

"This uncharacteristic haste in deciding a case that would benefit the son of a colleague in the HRET is clearly wrong and most improper, protests Reyes, who warns that such act would set a very destructive precedent that can only weaken HRET for eternity."

Indeed, is there a Phantom, not of the Opera but of the House?



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