Con-com OK with Duterte

(The Philippine Star) - August 4, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – He prefers a constituent assembly, but President Duterte is willing to create a constitutional commission (con-com) to help Congress in amending the 1987 Charter to pave the way for a federal form of government.

“Yes, I am in favor of con-com and have it ratified by the Senate or with concurrence,” he told editors and reporters of The STAR at Malacañang yesterday.

He said he is open to issuing an executive order for the creation of a con-com, citing the tedious process that normally characterizes charter change efforts.

In the federal form of government he envisions, Duterte said he wants a “strong president” to lead the country to the path of progress and justice.

“You might want to have a president that has a few powers,” he said, citing the authority to craft foreign policy, declare war and exercise police powers.    These powers are “intended to keep the integrity of the country intact,” he said.

The Chief Executive also said he is open to amending the 60-40 local-foreign ownership setup under the present Constitution, to make it 50-50.

While he prefers a constitutional convention as the mode of changing the 1987 Constitution, Duterte said the cost of such undertaking could run up to P50 billion. He said he would rather have such staggering amount given to worthwhile projects like Go Negosyo.

Duterte said he would discuss the creation of con-com in greater detail with Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Senate majority leader Vicente Sotto III, as well as with his trusted aides.

“We will decide; I will call Sotto, even Alvarez, so we can think about it. I will also talk with Senate President Pimentel. Let’s give the Filipino people the option. Were it not for the huge amount needed to go on with this con-con, I will agree,” he said.

On Monday, Alvarez said he would propose to Duterte the creation of a con-com composed of 20 experts to craft a new Charter, which would later be “discussed thoroughly” by Congress convened as a constituent assembly.

Some of the names Alvarez has in mind as con-com members are retired Supreme Court chief justice Reynato Puno, former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr., San Beda Graduate School of Law dean Ranhilio Aquino, former Cagayan de Oro mayor Reuben Canoy and Ateneo Law School dean emeritus Joaquin Bernas.

Collision course

They speak almost in one voice on the need for Charter change, but how to go about it, lawmakers are on a collision course.

If Congress is convened as a constituent assembly to do Cha-cha, senators want the two chambers – Senate and the House of Representatives – to vote separately on any proposed amendment.

Alvarez, for his part, is of the view that since congressmen and senators would assemble as Charter writers and not as lawmakers, they should vote as one body. There are 292 House members as against the Senate’s 24.

“I think lawmakers would vote jointly and not separately because they would meet as a con-ass and not as Congress. A con-ass is already a separate body,” Alvarez said yesterday.

But he made it clear this was “my personal view as a lawyer, not as Speaker of the House.” Separate voting should only be done, he said, on a resolution convening the House and the Senate into a con-ass.

Alvarez also argued a constitutional convention is no guarantee that delegates would not be motivated by self-interest. They can be subjected to the same pressure as lawmakers, he argued.

Sens. Panfilo Lacson and Franklin Drilon earlier said the two chambers should vote separately on each proposed amendment. They said the vote required is three-fourths of all the members of each chamber.

Lacson said the issue might reach the Supreme Court if congressmen insist on joint voting.

Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez, the first filer of a con-ass resolution, said his measure calls for separate voting.

“The Constitution is actually silent on it, but I proposed separate voting to avoid a conflict with the Senate,” he said.

“Since we are two co-equal legislative bodies, I think the Senate will not accept joint voting. Otherwise, the Senate will be drowned by the sheer number of members of the House,” Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said.

Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III said leaders of the two chambers should meet to resolve the question regarding voting. “It could delay Cha-cha, especially if it reaches the Supreme Court,” he said.

He is willing, he said, to support separate voting “to avoid a fight with the Senate and in recognition of our co-equality.”

“We need their cooperation. The con-ass mode will not materialize without their agreement. Remember that they are advocating the convening of a constitutional convention, not con-ass,” he added.

Deputy Speaker and Batangas Rep. Raneo Abu said Duterte’s record popularity rating would spell success for Cha-cha as the route to federalism.

“Now is the perfect and opportune time to push Charter change with President Duterte’s very strong political capital. He has no hidden political agenda. His leadership is about championing people’s interests,” he said.

Thursday and Friday

House Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo said congressmen can assemble as con-ass every Thursday and Friday when there are no sessions. Congressional session is from Monday to Wednesday.

He said he is optimistic House members wouldn’t mind giving up their designated schedule to visit their districts for a greater, more noble purpose.

“I’m sure they can make sacrifices. Our colleagues are very hardworking. And I think they can prove to their constituents that they are indeed worthy of their votes,” the Marikina congressman told a news conference.

Quimbo is not keen on con-con, which he described as “duplication of what Congress is today.” 

Fellow deputy speaker Fredenil Castro of Capiz likewise suggested that con-ass deliberations can either be made in shifts – in the morning or afternoon with sessions at night, or vice versa.

Abu voiced support for the scheme. “It’s just a matter of time management. We just have to make a system out of it,” the senior Batangas lawmaker told reporters.

Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. said the proposal of Alvarez for the creation of a constitutional commission (con-com) comprising experts on constitutional law can still be achieved.

In a statement, he said recommendations from the constitutional experts “can still be harvested by Congress without having to form them into a group.” 

“If President Duterte does not want to form that group, then nothing prevents the House from benefitting from the wisdom of these experts. There are many ways by which their views can be gathered,” Andaya said.

“We can ask them to appear before the House. We can request for their position papers. They can send us memorandums. And then we consolidate all of this into a report,” he suggested.

“The important thing is for us to act as a listening House. How can we be enlightened if what we are hearing are our own voices? Talk less, listen more. If the Batasan becomes an echo chamber, then we won’t be able to hear the voices of the citizens and the views of experts,” he pointed out.

But for such public consultations to be effective and credible, “even contrarian views must be solicited,” he stressed. “It should be open-mic season. Kahit wala ang kanta mo sa song list, dapat okay lang (Even if your song is not in the song list, it should be okay),” he said.  

“We want to hear the bad things as well, so we will know the pitfalls, the things which must be avoided. Because you know, revising the Charter is the world’s hardest editing job. In the face of this, we need all the help we can get,” Andaya maintained.

Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo said yesterday she prefers con-con as mode of changing the 1987 Constitution.

“To me, if you really want people participation, (people) who can concentrate on their job of amending the Constitution, con-con is better,” Robredo reporters.

A lawyer, Robredo said she understands Duterte’s concern that a con-con is costly.

“Con-con is more ideal. But I understand the reservations of the President. If you push through with con-con it would require higher budget,” she said.

A con-ass, on the other hand, would be “over and above” the duties of members of Congress, she added. She also said she is in favor of Alvarez’s proposal to organize a constitutional commission or a “council of wise men.” – Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz,Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores

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