The Long View
It is Adolf Hitler’s birth anniversary on Monday. Coincidentally (let’s hope) Carmen Pedrosa announced in her column that on Monday, Representatives Ortega, Romualdo, Garcia and Domogan will jointly file the Speaker’s Resolution No. 737 proposing the amendment of the Constitution’s ownership of land provisions. The past week found the House repeatedly failing to muster a quorum to do business, and a hearing in the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments was remarkable for the non-appearance of members.
Last week, Rep. Luis Villafuerte reportedly tried to kick off discussions in plenary on amendments – but was foiled by the absence of a quorum. Speaker Prospero Nograles and Villafuerte have been playing good cop and bad cop with their respective flavors of proposed amendments, though their rivalry for the President’s political affections has also unduly complicated matters, with neither one wholeheartedly supporting the other.
Former Chief Justice Panganiban, in this paper, wrote on Sunday that as of April 14, the competing Villafuerte resolution has 178 signatures, 18 short of the targeted 197 endorsements (it proposes to bypass the Senate by invoking the interpretation that a three-fourths majority of all of Congress’ members, regardless of which chamber they’re from, can directly propose an amendment for plebiscite).
The unnecessarily complicated – because intrigue-ridden – nature of the amendment campaign arises from the Frankenstein-like nature of the ruling coalition, which until last week had two heads: there’s the Speaker, and there’s Luis Villafuerte. Now both heads claim they’ve been replaced by another one: the President, who has apparently decided that two heads aren’t better than one. And so perhaps the logistical difficulties of the administration’s amendment campaign have been ironed out.
Another bill, proposed by an administration congressman, will probably be ignored despite its merits. Last week, Rep. Raul T. Gonzalez Jr. filed a bill (No. 6181 but unavailable on the House website) which proposes a “surgical amendment” of the Constitution. If no candidate obtains 50 percent of the vote for president, a run-off election between the top two contenders would automatically follow three weeks later, ensuring we’d have a chief executive elected by a genuine majority of the electorate.
The problem with the Gonzalez proposal is that he isn’t exactly a heavyweight in the House, and so his bill lacks the impact it might otherwise have, had it been proposed by, say, Victor Ortega or even Pablo Garcia, who know their stuff. Just because Gonzalez belongs to the majority doesn’t mean either the Lakas or Kampi factions of the ruling coalition will support it; it could even present an inconvenience to the administration.
Since voter registration is expected to end in October instead of December, and since the filing of candidacies for national positions has been moved to Bonifacio Day instead of next February, a solid advantage, under the camouflage of electoral automation, is being handed over to the administration.
Who has money aplenty, and based on the Comelec’s schedule, a time advantage? The administration.
In the first place, the much-ballyhooed Youth Vote will prove even more of a dud, since the summer vacation will pass with few, if any, students registering to vote. As it is, Sen. Francis Pangilinan has asked some embarrassing questions concerning the limited quotas, in some places, for voter registration, supposedly due to a shortage of materials. Not every potential voter who lined up the first time, only to be told to come back because equipment needs replenishing, will return. The advantage therefore passes to political groups already organized, with a reliable network of registered voters at their command.
Second of all, moving up the filing of candidacies means that the time available to various groups to form coalitions, whether for the presidency, the Senate or even the House, will be shorter than usual. Existing coalitions will be strengthened, and the biggest coalition of all happens to be the administration’s. Whether it decides to openly endorse a candidate for president, and let him take the flak, while secretly supporting another, or brazening it out, doesn’t matter: what matters is that if pressed for time, their rivals and enemies will have a harder time of putting together a viable candidacy.
The result is a kind of Ramos-like win-win situation for the Frankenstein coalition. It can test the waters with the Nograles resolution, while working in the background to attempt the Villafuerte scheme. Win or lose, everyone will have to enter the fray and at the very least, this will use up everybody’s time – and resources – until the end of the present Second Session of the 14th Congress.
Still, anything is possible. There is always the chance the Gonzalez resolution might benefit from a switcheroo in the House, substituting for the Nograles and Villafuerte schemes, just to keep things interesting. While I’ve personally long supported the idea of run-off elections for the presidency (and others have, too; for example, Ducky Paredes and Tony Abaya have independently endorsed the idea), it seems to me run-off elections are dangerous for the administration. Unless it has both leading contenders in its pocket, a run-off could finally achieve unity of sorts among oppositionists going into the final round.
That would make 2010 a real showdown between the Frankenstein coalition and its many enemies, with the politicians forced to follow the lead of public opinion, which might very well embrace the idea. The risks of railroading amendments, and using administration machinery to win a constitutional plebiscite, seem much more manageable in comparison.