Opposition wooing SC chief

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE opposition is wooing Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban to run for the Senate next year after the Supreme Court threw out a people’s initiative to shift to a parliamentary system of government, a losing petitioner said yesterday.

“We heard that he might run and I would not be surprised if he was picked up by the opposition after what happened,” said Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone, who here as part of the President’s official delegation.

“Although it is hard to say that he voted the way he did because of his political ambitions, we cannot deny that the people’s initiative was rejected and that the local and national elections in 2007 will push through,” said Evardone, one of those who had petitioned the Supreme Court to uphold the people’s initiative.

Panganiban’s was the deciding vote in the 8-7 decision rejecting the petition filed by Sigaw ng Bayan and the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, which Evardone heads.

“From what we heard, Panganiban wants to do a Marcelo Fernan,” he said, referring to the former chief justice who ran for senator and was elected Senate president.

“We were told that he was not only the swing vote but was actually the one who campaigned against the petition.”

Mindanao Rep. Benasing Macarambon, a Charter Change advocate, said Panganiban would not get a single vote in Lanao del Sur if he ran.

“Zero vote, because our people are very, very angry at what happened,” Macarambon said, adding that the Charter Change initiative would have given ordinary people a bigger say in politics.

Evardone said the Union of Local Authorities would campaign against Panganiban and any other politicians who fought Charter Change.

“He cannot win with 6.3 million Filipinos mad at what happened. Local government units will campaign against him and all other officials against Charter Change,” he said.

Other groups that supported the people’s initiative turned their ire on Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who wrote the decision.

Nilo Tayag of the Guardians International Inc. said the decision insulted the intelligence of the 6.3 million people who signed the petition.

Efren de Luna, who heads a transport group that supported the initiative, called for Carpio to resign.

“We worked tirelessly and went around the country to seek the support of our fellow Filipinos for the people’s initiative and patiently explain to them the details of the petition, but Carpio has belittled our efforts and even unfairly accused us of deception just so he could continue defending the interests of the elite,” De Luna said.

“They [the justices] should vacate their positions to save the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court.”

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said he was disappointed, and particularly with Panganiban.

“Of course [the Palace was disappointed],” he said. “But the Palace respects what they did. I want to be very clear that we respect it. We are not happy, but we respect the decision.”

Gonzalez had earlier criticized Panganiban for admitting that people had been pressuring the Court before the vote.

Also yesterday, Malacañang rejected an opposition call for administration allies in the House of Representatives to drop “Plan B”—a bid to amend the Constitution through a constituent assembly composed of both Chambers of Congress.

“Definitely we support it because it is in support of the objective of the President for political reforms,” Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said of the House initiative.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia is set to call an all-party caucus next week to get a consensus on the convening of a constituent assembly. House Majority Leader Prospero Nograles said that would become the chamber’s priority should a majority of the congressmen decide to push ahead.

Other administration supporters vowed “to keep the Charter Change fire burning.”

But opposition congressmen tried to dissuade their colleagues from proceeding with the constituent assembly, saying the Senate would block the move anyway.