Next battleground: Congress

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — WITH the Supreme Court’s decision throwing out the petition for people’s initiative, the battleground for Charter change shifted to Congress for the convening of the Senate and the House as a Constituent Assembly, congressmen said yesterday.

House Minority Leader Francis Escudero said President Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies were expected to make a push for Con-Ass after their defeat in the Supreme Court.

As if on cue, pro-Arroyo Rep. Abraham Mitra of Palawan declared: “The Cha-cha train will now switch to the constituent assembly track.” The problem, he said, is the uncooperative Senate. Mitra is deputy majority leader at the House.

“It takes two to Cha-cha. Will the Senate dance? That’s the big question,” he said. “It is now up to their representatives to continue what the people have started,” he said, referring to the House members who adopt the view that by simply getting 195 votes representing three-fourths of the entire membership of Congress would be adequate to amend the Constitution, subject to a plebiscite.

“The proponents of this ChaSIs (Charter change for Self-Interests) will definitely shift the fight to Congress. And we in the opposition are ready for them,” declared Rep. Joel Villanueva of the Citizens’ Battle Against Crime.

Deputy Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano called for continued vigilance against other possible means the administration would take to force a Charter change.

“The people need to be vigilant. The Arroyo administration will not stop in trying to consolidate power and stay in power beyond 2010. Con-Ass is the next battlefield,” he said.

“We should agree and focus on reforms including political reforms which can be achieved with the present Constitution and system. Electoral reform should be on top of the list because if the administration can’t get Cha-cha, (it) will try to win at all cost,” Cayetano said, raising apprehension for a repeat of the lingering suspicions of massive fraud in the 2004 elections.

Rep. Gilbert Remulla of the Nacionalista Party said the defeat of the people’s initiative should push the PI proponents to push for an enabling law in Congress. But then, he said this would be moving from one divisive exercise to another. “The next battleground will be Con-Ass where the Supreme Court will again play a crucial role,” he said.