JDV: 85% we will have new Charter
- Eva Visperas () - November 28, 2005 - 12:00am
DAGUPAN CITY — Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. is highly optimistic that the country will have a new Constitution and a new parliamentary government soon.

De Venecia spoke with reporters at his Bonuan Binloc home in this city Saturday night, saying he has been "fighting for (Charter change) for 12 years. Now it looks like we’re going to win. There is much hope now."

He said he is "more than 85 percent sure" that his efforts for Charter change will result in the creation of a new Constitution.

De Venecia said Congress is now awaiting the recommendation of the presidential constitutional commission (con-com) on Charter amendments composed of constitutional experts from various sectors.

The con-com members will submit their recommendations to the House of Representatives and the Senate, which will be convened into a constituent assembly for the purpose of amending the 1987 Constitution.

"All we’re asking of the Senate is this: Together, let’s debate in the constituent assembly," De Venecia said, adding that if the senators are not in favor of any constitutional amendments, "all they have to do is object and vote against it, but the senators should debate (over) it with us before the bar of public opinion."

It is the "solemn constitutional duty" of the senators "to debate with us," De Venecia said. "There’s nothing to fear there because we debate before the bar of public opinion."

He is hopeful that the constituent assembly, "availing (itself of the votes of) three-fourths of all members of Congress" will craft a new Constitution "by January next year" after the House approves the draft charter by December, which will then be sent to the Senate.

"I’m sure some of the senators might challenge (this move to amend the Constitution) in the Supreme Court," but he urged them to give it a try.

The entire process, he said, will probably take 30 days or more. "If the SC rules that the three-fourths vote requirement is okay, then we have a new Constitution and we will submit it to the Filipino people two months thereafter," he said.

If moves to amend the charter by constituent assembly succeed, De Venecia said there may be a plebiscite to ratify the new Constitution by the first week of May.

Alternatively, De Venecia said Charter change proponents may launch the people’s initiative and referendum through which local government units, legislators and civil society leaders nationwide will gather to endorse proposed amendments to the Constitution with the signatures of 12 percent of the country’s voters.

These voters’ signatures will be verified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), he said, then a plebiscite will be called after two months.

The referendum method, he said "is a constitutionally authorized track of initiative, especially when there is a crisis between the Senate and the House. When there is paralysis between the Senate and the House, then you have the people’s initiative and referendum because there are three ways of amending the Constitution."

The power of the people, he added "is the power of approval or disapproval."

If either method of amending the Constitution is used, De Venecia said, "We’ll have a parliamentary government starting June."
Palace welcomes senators’ move
Malacañang welcomed yesterday reports that senators are warming up to proposals to convene Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said in a statement Charter change is necessary "to revitalize a degenerated political system hampering our growth as a nation."

"Some in the opposition are beginning to see the light on the need to undertake this change," he said. "We take exception, however, to the view expressed by some, which focuses simply on personalities rather than fundamental political and economic reforms."

Bunye said more and more sectors are tuning in on the free and untrammeled debates on the Charter as the con-com breaks new ground everyday.

All President Arroyo wants is to have political and economic reforms put in place in the Constitution to allow the country to achieve First World status in 20 years, Bunye said.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said over the weekend many of the senators who had earlier supported a constitutional convention (con-con) have realized it would be more practical–and less expensive–to have Congress convened as a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution.

"What is important is that if we amend the Constitution by constituent assembly, it will be faster and economical," he said. "The only problem is that Congress has a low level of public trust."

Lawmakers are already familiar with the issues and the amendments being proposed, and they are already well-versed in parliamentary rules, Pimentel said.

On the other hand, Charter change proponents in the House and Malacañang said a con-con would not only cost between P6 billion and P8 billion but would be politically divisive and expose the Constitution to "wholesale revision."

Each con-con delegate, elected by pairs in the country’s more than 200 congressional districts, would be free to propose any amendment, they added.

The House has began plenary debates on proposals to shift to a unicameral parliamentary federal system through a constituent assembly.

House leaders said they could approve the concurrent resolution as early as this week calling for the convening of a constituent assembly.

Last week, Malacañang said debates and public consultations on Charter change have already begun contributing to the country’s political and economic stability.

Meanwhile, lawyer Romela Bengzon, con-com deputy secretary general, said the nationwide consultations on proposals to amend the Constitution to shift the form of government to a parliamentary system have given the people something to hope for amid the country’s political troubles.

"Because of the debates, the people now have a sense of hope unlike before there was a creeping sense of hopelessness because the people now see an alternative system of government," she said in a telephone interview.

Bengzon said while the con-com’s nationwide consultations are not yet finished, the emerging consensus among the people is that the country needs a "unifying" parliamentary system.

The different sectors expressed belief that the current bicameral system is "so adversarial" in performing its function of checks and balances that promotes divisiveness, not only in government but in the entire country as well, she added.

The con-com is expected to come up with their recommendation by the end of the year and submit it to the President.  

Malacañang said it wants to have a draft constitution up for plebiscite or direct approval by the people within the first half of next year.

Mrs. Arroyo put fresh impetus to moves to amend the Constitution in her State of the Nation Address last July 25 when she called for the "great debate" on Charter change to begin. — Wih Paolo Romero

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