Economic Cha-cha not enough – House
(The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Limiting changes in the Charter to economic provisions – as proposed by business groups and financial executives – would be “unwise,” according to the head of the House panel working on a constitution for a federal government.

“The suggestion is unwise, partly because, as the business sector knows, governance issues are also at the core of the medium-term and long-term development goals,” Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said yesterday.

Mercado was reacting to a recent joint statement of the Management Association of the Philippines, and Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines that Charter change initiatives should focus on amending restrictive economic provisions.

“To neglect governance is to just partly solve decades-old problems,” Mercado warned.

It would be a “wasted opportunity,” he said, if governance issues were “overlooked,” especially now that President Duterte and Congress are enjoying their “combined political capital.”

“The combined political capital of President Duterte and of Congress is enough to deliver on the commitment to give Filipinos a government that is closer to them and away from imperial Manila,” Mercado said.

The business groups, in their joint statement, said the best mode for economic Cha-cha is a constituent assembly, with the two chambers of Congress voting separately and independently.

For political and other more sweeping reforms, the business groups said a constitutional convention, in which most or all of the delegates are elected, is a better even if costlier and longer mode. The additional expense, the business groups said, would be “a justifiable investment.”

“We wish to assure the business community that seeming disagreements between the House and Senate are simply part of the dynamics of the same democracy that produces the free market environment wherein businesses thrive,” he declared.

He assured the public the two chambers of Congress are “working on solutions.”

“As I have said before, reason and pragmatism are serving as guideposts,” he said.

He emphasized that lawmakers “appreciate the inputs and concerns of Finex, MBC and MAP on the current, very public, and open debate on constitutional change.”

He added they are trying to arrive at a “consensus” with the senators who insist on separate voting on amendments. The House leadership wants the two chambers in Congress to vote jointly.

“We will convene according to provisions of the Constitution,” Mercado said, adding that “divergent views” are normal in an institution with large number of lawyers.

“At the end of the day, we want to have a reasonable and pragmatic decision,” he said.

“They (lawmakers) are just doing their jobs, they have differences in opinions. This is indeed a very healthy exercise of democracy,” Mercado pointed out.

He also disclosed the House has already turned over to the Senate its resolution calling for a con-ass.

Timetable threatened

With the Senate-House standoff, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri said the passage of urgent reform bills might be stalled.

Zubiri appealed to members of both chambers to “tone down the hurtful words being spread by the two sides” or Charter change would be derailed.

“Even our other legislative agenda may suffer. Like local bills,” Zubiri told reporters. “What I don’t want to happen is that pet bills of congressmen will not move and vice versa,” he added. “And who will suffer? The Filipino people.”

He renewed his call for a dialogue between leaders of the Senate and the House so that an agreement could be reached on how to go about amending the Constitution.

The House has adopted Concurrent Resolution No. 9, which seeks to convene Congress as a constituent assembly (con-ass) where Charter change would be discussed in joint session and voting on amendments also done jointly.

The Senate is against such an arrangement.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said the resolution would simply be referred to the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, chaired by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, which held a hearing on Charter change last week.

Meanwhile, two former Senate presidents – Juan Ponce Enrile and Aquilino Pimentel Jr. – said they are strongly for separate voting on charter amendments as they advised incumbent lawmakers to take extra caution in crafting a new constitution.

“Everything is theoretical. Dahan-dahang pag-aralan nang mabuti (Study it carefully),” Enrile said at a press briefing yesterday. He reminded lawmakers that changing the Constitution is “not like changing your americana or your pants.”

Pimentel, for his part, cited the need for more dialogue and massive information campaign to ensure the success of Charter change and federalism.

“Government agencies and non-government organizations involved in the propagation of this idea should make sure people participate,” he said in Filipino. “I am prepared to accept there are other views.”

The two senators also maintained that the Constitution is very clear about procedures regarding voting on amendments.

“The presence of the two Houses is not accidental, it is an intentional policy by the nation through the approval of the people,” Enrile said.

Pimentel agreed. “The truth of the matter is that the Senate should not be a pushover,” he said, adding that lawmakers should not just pander to the wishes of the President.

“Senate must be able to filter the good points of the proposals” or amendments to the Constitution, he pointed out.

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