Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Palace to use H1N1 issue as ruse for SONA delay?

Is Malacanang thinking of calling for a special session ahead of the scheduled SONA on July 27, using the worsening H1N1 as a reason?

It seems like it since there are suggestions that the Palace, through Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is amenable to delay the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Mrs. Gloria Arroyo if the situation worsens. The question I would like to pose is this---is this allowed by the Constitution?

Obviously, the charter is very explicit on this. Under Section 23, Article 7 of the 1987 Constitution, it says that:

The President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session. He may also appear before it at any other time.

And when is the regular session of Congress? In Section 15, of Article VI, the date of the regular session is explicitly stated, thus:

The Congress shall convene once every year on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session, unless a different date is fixed by law, and shall continue to be in session for such number of days as it may determine until thirty days before the opening of its next regular session, exhaustive of Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays. The President may call a special session at any time.
Now, that provision is very explicit and directory, meaning, it cannot be changed except with a law passed that would direct the Congress to change the date of its regular session. Changing the date of the regular session, at this point, is impossible since Congress is on recess and there is, I think, difficulty in assembling at least 200 Congressmen to vote on this.

There are talks that Malacanang wants to use this H1N1 issue as a ruse to allow itself to declare a State of Emergency or at the least, use it to delay the SONA. As I wrote, this is not possible since the provision is very explicit, probably except if there is a national emergency.

What is the effects of a delay in the opening of a regular session? Well, one it pushes back the passage of pending legislation. And two, it also allows Congressmen, especially allies of the president, to consolidate their forces and muster enough numbers to really convene the House as Constituent Assembly. Talks are rife that Malacanang would not be able to get the required 240 votes for con-ass, says Fr. Bernas. Yet, Cong. Ortega said, this is still achievable.

Now, then, this H1N1 issue could be used as a basis to call for a special session ahead of the SONA, austensibly, to call on the passage of a law that would delay the SONA date. If this would be the case, this would be the very first time that the date of regular session would be changed since 1987.