Duterte to Congress: Don’t mess with Charter

Christina Mendez - The Philippine Star

‘Trust me on Cha-cha’

MANILA, Philippines - As doubts persist over the wisdom of Charter change and the motives of the people behind it, President Duterte has appealed to the people to trust him to ensure the integrity of the endeavor even as he warned lawmakers against messing with the Constitution.

Speaking with The STAR the other day at Malacañang, he said he has this message for Congress: “Don’t f*** with the Constitution.”

If they mess with Charter change, he said later, he would shut down Congress and have members arrested.

The Senate and the House of Representatives are gearing up to convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) to work on changing the Constitution, in preparation for a shift to a federal form of government.

Duterte has said he is also open to a constitutional commission or con-com where he will appoint the delegates, but he said he would consult the Senate about it.

Some quarters have raised concerns a con-ass mode of changing the Constitution would enable some lawmakers to fortify their hold on power and advance their vested interests. But Duterte said this won’t be possible under his watch.

“So I need your trust,” he told delegates of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting last Wednesday at Malacañang. 

“At least, believe in me, I will be the last one to agree to anything there that would destroy our country. And even in the aspect of money,” he stressed.

“The only reason I won is that I carried the right message. I have to stop corruption. Now I’m telling you, it will really be a clean government. For the nth time, I’m telling you that,” Duterte added.

“Besides, we are all Filipinos. Why would I embrace principles that would do – which are against our country? Leave them, in the end, the outcome (of debates) will have to be submitted to us for a plebiscite and for all the time that they’d be crafting a new Constitution, I am here,” he said.

His appeal came on the heels of a Pulse Asia survey showing about 40 percent of Filipinos against the administration’s tinkering with the present Constitution.

In assuring the public, Duterte also stressed he has no ambition to prolong his stay in power. 

Although he has no problem with constitutional convention as a mode of changing the Constitution, the 71-year-old Duterte said a con-ass would be a better alternative as it is cheaper.

“I have no further (political) ambition… because I have reached, sagad na (the limit). As I have said, if you can amend the Constitution and you can do it in three to four years and you can elect a new president under a parliament like France, I will willingly give up the remaining years of my term and go out. Walang drama, wala lahat. Magre-retire na ako (No drama, I’ll just retire),” he said.

He added his main concern is pursuing the interests of the people.

“So do not be afraid of whatever method that they would use because your guarantee is ako (me). I will never, never allow… Sabihin ko talaga sila: ’Wag ’yan. Kasi ’pag pinilit ninyo ’yan, sasarahan ko itong Congress. Huhulihin ko kayong lahat (I’ll really tell them not that, if you insist I’ll close Congress and have you arrested),’” the President said.

But he pointed out the lawmakers are elected by the people and can be trusted.

“We should not be too judgmental about the members of Congress. You can tell by the track records that they have. They have been elected, reelected, took a break (from politics) then reelected again. If you think about the acceptability of the people, who are we to judge that they are not competent?” 

In Legazpi City, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said only by overhauling the 1987 Constitution can the government address the issues that hamper the push for a “Philippine style” federalism.

“We need a total revision of our present Constitution so that we can design a federal form of government suited for the needs of our people,” Alvarez told reporters after swearing into the PDP-Laban at least 500 elected local officials.

He emphasized any effort to revise the Constitution must involve the participation of every sector of Philippine society.

“We must create an independent body to be composed of people with unquestionable credibility coming from the various sectors of our society. All sectors of society must be involved. It must be an inclusive (group),” Alvarez said

He also batted for a massive education drive about federalism and the need to change the Constitution to achieve such end so that the people would have an informed decision when a referendum on the matter is held.

He said a federal system must not only consider territory and population, but economic viability.

“It is not fair if progressive towns and cities would be clustered together as a federal state and neglect those poor areas,” Alvarez pointed out.

Con-con redundant

At the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said assembling a constitutional convention for purposes of amending the 1987 Constitution is just like having a twin Congress, which can be real costly as it would involve electing 200 representatives. There are currently 293 House members and 24 senators.

Holding a con-con election itself might even cost the government around P7 billion, he said.

Another House leader, Deputy Speaker Miro Quimbo of Marikina, agreed with Fariñas, saying he is not inclined to support con-con as it would be a “duplication of what Congress is today.”

Fariñas described moves by members of the so-called House independent bloc “inaction by paralysis” since amendments to the Charter can only be made by a two-thirds vote which they themselves could not even muster.

“The fastest way to do it is con-ass (constituent assembly), because we already comprise those delegates. We are 293 congressmen here, we represent the whole country,” he said.

He reassured the public that as legislators, all they can do is just to raise proposals either for amendments or revisions to the 29-year-old Charter, adding members of the super majority coalition are set to meet on Aug. 9 to resume deliberations on the issue.

“Congress cannot amend or revise the Constitution. We cannot even change a comma or period without the people’s approval. All we can do is to provide a proposal for your approval,” he pointed out.

“We have to come up with something that will be acceptable to the people,” Fariñas said.

He also raised the possibility of the House suspending its law-making function while deliberating on Charter change.

“We may have to stop the legislative mill. Why? Because we are already rewriting our Constitution. We might as well stop legislation first. If we are talking about divorce, death penalty, then what if these may all be excluded in the next Constitution?” he asked.

He explained it may just be pointless to hold legislative sessions in the current 17th Congress while there are discussions to change the fundamental law of the land.

“So let’s stop making laws. We have so many laws, and it won’t kill us if we stop making new ones. We can do it every other week – legislative power, then constituent power,” he said. – Delon Porcalla, Cet Dematera

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