‘Economic Cha-cha easier’

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
�Economic Cha-cha easier�

The senators stressed they are open to amending the Constitution, including its political provisions, and were only pointing out the complexity of changing the form of government as well as the many questions from the public that need to be answered by federalism advocates. Philstar.com/File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — It would be easier for Congress to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution than to rewrite major sections in the Charter that may require extending the term of officials so the country may shift to a federal system, senators said yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III and Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, made the remarks as the panel prepared to conduct a hearing on Wednesday on various Charter change (Cha-cha) bills.

The senators stressed they are open to amending the Constitution, including its political provisions, and were only pointing out the complexity of changing the form of government as well as the many questions from the public that need to be answered by federalism advocates.

Sotto said relaxing the restrictive economic provisions to attract foreign investments was easy using a formula whereby the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” is simply included in the provisions.

The phrase, Sotto said, does not pave the way for a rewrite of the Constitution, but allows Congress to make amendments to give the country some flexibility or take advantage of economic opportunities whenever they arise.

“Prudence dictates that federalism will require a long debate because many of us do not have a full grasp of federalism,” Sotto told radio station dzBB.

He said Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s timetable of holding a plebiscite for the proposed amended Constitution to coincide with the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections this May can be doable if only the economic provisions will be touched.

“We can’t promise that (timetable of Alvarez) if we will discuss federalism and the parliamentary system in amending the Constitution—but let’s see,” Sotto said.

Sotto also said Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s proposal for the Senate to convene as a Charter-amending body to write the proposed amendments and submit the same to the House – just like approving a bill – could speed up the process.

He said senators from the majority and minority bloc are amenable to proposals for Congress to convene as a constituent assembly (con-ass) to draft the amendments as long as the voting of the Senate and the House will be separate.

He said among the turn-offs for senators, and the general public as well, on the issue of Charter change is if the House insists on a joint voting in a con-ass; if there are term extensions, and if the scheduled elections are cancelled.

Pangilinan said to provide direction in the Charter change hearing, the committee would first determine if there is a need to amend the Constitution; which provisions should be amended and the mode of amending the Charter.

He said he is also determined to conduct the hearing with transparency and a clear timetable to finish the deliberations even as warned against pressuring or rushing the panel to suit some vested interests.

“We want everything in the open and clear, all voices will be heard, and we’ll also not allow any railroading or forcing of the issue—but we’ll oppose any unnecessary delay,” he added.

New charter to abolish OVP?

However, the proposed new constitution reportedly aims to abolish the Office of the Vice President (OVP) in 2019 and allow President Duterte to run for reelection in 2022.

Former Bayan Muna party-list representative Neri Colmenares yesterday warned that under the proposed constitution that will allow the shift to federal form of government being pushed by the ruling PDP-Laban, “the OVP will be abolished by 2019 if they succeed in having the new constitution ratified during the 2019 elections.”

“Vice President Leni Robredo will be ousted from her office long before her term ends in 2022,” he added.

Colmenares also said the draft constitution “does not disqualify” Duterte from seeking re-election in 2022, when his six-year term expires.

“While PDP-Laban may argue that they will not apply this to Vice President Robredo, this is not expressed in PDP-Laban Constitution since they have refused to divulge their transitory provision,” he said.

Colmenares cited Article VII, Section 7 of the proposed PDP-Laban constitution, which provides that it is is the “Senate President and if incapacitated, the Speaker who shall succeed President Duterte in case of death, or removal from office.”

“The Vice President is not mentioned at all in the line of succession because, upon ratification of the new Constitution, her office no longer exists,” he added.

Anticipating criticisms from PDP-Laban stalwarts and other allies of Duterte, Colmenares said that “even if Robredo is allowed to stay until 2022, she will be a lame-duck vice president who is not even listed in the line of succession to President Duterte.”

Surigao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Robert Ace Barbers, an administration lawmaker, advised Duterte’s critics in Congress to “show respect” to the majority of legislators who gave their unwavering support to the administration.

“I hope that the 20 percent who disapproved of our President’s actions would just keep their peace since the overwhelming majority of 80 percent have already spoken and approved of President Duterte’s brand of leadership,” Barbers said.

“In a democracy which these critics keep on mentioning, it is always majority wins.

“It is quite funny and pathetic that the 20 percent are making so much noise while the 80 percent are simply smiling and watching in great content the President’s game-changing policies and unorthodox leadership,” he added.

The OVP has been a feature of the republic for over 80 years since it was created under the 1935 Constitution. And the only time since then that the Philippines had no vice president was during the Marcos dictatorship.

Under the 1987 Constitution, the president is barred from seeking reelection to prevent abuse of power and dictatorship.

Why abolish the OVP?

Robredo’s camp questioned the motives of Duterte’s allies in abolishing the OVP.

Barry Gutierrez, Robredo’s legal adviser, said he does not see a link between the proposed shift to a federal system of government and the removal of the OVP in the Charter.

“The current proposals to revise the Constitution are supposedly anchored on a drive to promote and institute a federal system of government. The question therefore is, how does abolishing the OVP relate to the establishment of federalism?” Gutierrez said.

“Or is the abolition already in service of some other, unstated, agenda?” he added.

Earlier, Robredo, who chairs the formerly ruling Liberal Party, opposed term extension for elected officials and the no-election (“no-el”) scenario next year, which are being floated by allies of Duterte in line with the shift to a federal system of government.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had said it is possible that midterm elections next year would be canceled should the government shift to a federal system.

Duterte: No term extension for me

Duterte has allayed fears that efforts to amend the Constitution would be used to perpetuate himself in power.

“There will be no suspension of elections and there will be no term extension especially for me,” the President told MindaNews in an interview last Friday.

Duterte is also waiting for the draft of the committee he formed to propose amendments to the Constitution but he has not named its members “because it is not yet time to mention them.”

“I read one by one their bio data, or what you would call resume,” Duterte said.

Duterte said Congress may summon the members of the consultative committee to present their proposals upon the resumption of sessions after Holy Week.

“Nandyan na yan. (It’s there). Then by the time they (Congress) are ready to resume (sessions)… they (committee members) can be called by Congress, each one of them and every one of them to present the structure, whatever,” the President told MindaNews.

In 2016, Duterte issued Executive Order No. 10 creating a 25-member consultative committee that would review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution. In the order, Duterte said there is a need to review the Constitution “to ensure that it is truly reflective of the needs, ideals and aspirations of the Filipino people.”

Militant group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) is set to kick off protests today against the planned Cha-cha by Duterte’s lawmakers.

Renato Reyes, Bayan secretary-general, said they will start the first of a widespread campaign against Cha-cha tomorrow afternoon at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

Reyes said in a statement that they are against the moves to amend the 1987 Constitution via constituent assembly as these “are patently self-serving and will have no benefit for the people.” With Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores, Alexis Romero, Romina Cabrera

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