‘Cha-cha won’t affect ties with Congress’

Jess Diaz, Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - July 14, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Despite standing firm against moves in Congress to have the Constitution amended, President Aquino won’t let the issue affect his ties with lawmakers and political allies, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday.

“Will it affect the relationship? This is not a new issue that has confronted both sides,” Valte said over radio dzRB.

She said that during the previous 15th Congress, the executive and the legislative branches had proven that they could work together for the people’s welfare.

Early on, she said proponents of constitutional amendments had made their positions known to the public in the interest of transparency and in an effort to stir healthy debate on the issue.

She also said that despite Aquino’s firm stand on the issue, he would not interfere in the debates among lawmakers and would rather watch developments unfold.

“I asked the President if there had been any change in the position, in the same way that you guys (media) would ask us, and the President’s response to me was, ‘My position has not changed,’” Valte said.

She said she is not in a position to tell whether there is public clamor for Charter change, but expressed belief that certain initiatives or advocacies can snowball if perceived to be advantageous to many.

She also said there’s no telling if ongoing efforts to have the Constitution revised will prosper or die a natural death without Malacañang’s support.

Aquino’s allies in Congress, particularly Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., are pushing for amendments to some economic provisions in the Constitution.

But Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez and his brother Maximo, who represents the party-list group Abante Mindanao, have filed a bill proposing a constitutional convention to revise both the political and economic provisions of the Charter.

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said the Rodriguez brothers’ initiative would imperil efforts to ease restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution.

“I cannot predict nor do I want to speak on the future, given the new amendments that are being proposed by Congressman Rufus Rodriguez and his brother,” Valte said.

Meanwhile, Gonzales said “safety nets” are in place to make sure any effort to amend the Constitution is limited to certain provisions.

He said a major safety net is giving both chambers of Congress the power to reject each other’s proposal once they are convened into a constituent assembly to introduce changes in the Charter.

“The two chambers can check each other. The concurrence of the two houses is needed for any Cha-cha proposal to pass. Each house needs the vote of three-fourths of its members to approve any amendment,” he said.

To make the Charter change effort simpler, Gonzales and Belmonte, who is seen to keep his post as Speaker, are pushing for the insertion of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the Constitution’s economic provisions that limit foreign ownership of businesses and lands.

This means that the restrictions will remain, unless Congress deems it necessary to relax them through legislation.

Some senators are proposing that if the Senate would agree to Cha-cha and convene with the House as a con-ass, all “defective provisions” of the Charter should be reviewed for good measure.

The Rodriguez brothers are suggesting that all foreign ownership restrictions be lifted, not through a law but through direct constitutional amendment.

The political changes that they advocate include shifting the system of government from presidential to parliamentary-federal, replacing the two-chamber Congress with a unicameral parliament, and scrapping the term limits for lawmakers and local officials.

But Gonzales said lawmakers, the President and even the people would have no control over what a con-con would do with the Charter, since a convention has plenary powers to rewrite not just specific provisions but even the entire Constitution.

“Our proposed con-ass process will be democratic and transparent. Each Cha-cha proposal will go through committee hearings and plenary debates, which will be open to the public. That is another safety net that Cha-cha can be confined only to certain provisions,” he said.

He said if a member proposes an amendment that is not shared by the majority, such proposal can be easily stopped in the committee level.

He said a con-ass would be a lot faster and cheaper than a con-con.

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