‘Congress has final say on Charter change’

The Philippine Star
�Congress has final  say on Charter change�

“The matter or manner of proposing amendments to or revision of the Constitution is a power exclusively retained by the sovereign Filipino directly or through their duly elected representatives, that is, the Congress,” Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said.  Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — It is Congress that has the final say on Charter change (Cha-cha), not President Duterte’s 19-member consultative committee formed to review the Constitution, leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate said yesterday.

“The matter or manner of proposing amendments to or revision of the Constitution is a power exclusively retained by the sovereign Filipino directly or through their duly elected representatives, that is, the Congress,” Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas said.

“As the name connotes, it is a consultative, or advisory, commission of the President. It cannot, and will not work in tandem with Congress. Of course, Congress may consider the commission’s recommendations, as well as those of any citizen, and may adopt or not adopt them at all,” he said.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III called Duterte’s formation of the consultative committee a “welcome development” but made it clear “the legislature will have its own mechanisms” to review and amend the Constitution.

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments, chaired by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, has been conducting hearings on various proposals to amend the Charter.

Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone also said the creation of the President’s advisory panel was “a welcome development.”

“However, we as elected representatives of the people and the one vested by the Constitution to propose amendments, will continue to exercise our independent and inherent sovereign duty to propose Charter changes,” he pointed out.

He said lawmakers would “definitely welcome the inputs of the commission but we are not duty-bound to accept all their proposals.”

Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, who chairs the committee on constitutional amendments, said the consultative panel’s output “will definitely provide our Congress with more inputs in the historic drafting of our new Constitution.”

Rep. Eugene de Vera of party-list group Arts, Business and Sciences, who has authored a federal Charter with Pampanga Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr., said the results of the review of Duterte’s consultants on Cha-cha would have a “persuasive effect” on lawmakers.

“However, at the end of the day, it is Congress and the people who will decide on proposed constitutional amendments,” he said.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza welcomed Duterte’s decision to appoint a consultative panel chaired by former chief justice Reynato Puno.

“We find this very reassuring because it means the difficult and delicate task of drafting a new Charter will not just be left to the House and the Senate. Most of the consultative committee’s members are men and women of impeccable character and track record,” he said.

For opposition Rep. Edcel Lagman, the outcome of the parallel Cha-cha work of Congress and the Puno committee would not be different.

“Despite two bodies consisting of the Congress and the consultative committee discharging duplicating roles of reviewing the 1987 Constitution, any fear that ‘too many cooks will spoil the broth’ is foreclosed because the principal chef in Malacañang controls the recipe,” he said.

He said lawmakers and the 19 Duterte consultants are expected to endorse the President’s advocacy for a shift to the federal system.

“The congressional leaders and the supermajority in both houses of Congress are unanimous in backing the shift from a unitary to a federal government, while not a few of the appointed members of the consultative committee are known to favor federalism,” he said.

He added that the creation of the Puno panel has temporarily set aside the impasse between the House and the Senate on the manner of voting on Cha-cha. 

Inputs useful

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto said the output of the consultative committee “can be useful to us,” adding that Duterte informed them of his plan to assemble the panel last year.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto cited the committee’s being composed of eminent individuals like Puno, former senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Fr. Ranhilio Aquino, dean of the San Beda Graduate School of Law.

He described the panel as a “league of extraordinary gentlemen that should be able to meet the people’s expectation of an output that is far from ordinary.”

He however reminded members of the body that while they are competent to speak on Charter change, their mandate is to listen to the diverse opinions on how to improve the basic law.

“On this, they are expected to crowd-source the wisdom of the people and digest them into a compact piece of recommendations for the sovereign, and their officials, to act on,” Recto said.

He maintained the consultations “will further enrich healthy discussions on the nation’s most important document, including the ones to be conducted by the Senate, which, I understand, will not cease on account of the presidential initiative.”

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the panel would complement the work of Pangilinan’s committee, which will also conduct hearings in Mindanao, Cebu and Baguio. He stressed amending the Charter is basically a function of Congress.

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments, Drilon said, is still discussing whether there is need for Charter change – or if there’s one, which mode to use toward that end.

Drilon revealed senators have not yet reached a consensus on many issues around Charter change.

“The work of the Puno Commission will be a valuable input to the Senate. It is best that we await the committee, and Senate itself, to decide on these issues,” Drilon said.

Meanwhile, the issue of Charter change will be discussed today in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) 116th Plenary Assembly in Cebu.

The conference runs until Monday. “There will be a discussion on that but I am not sure what their stand would be,” said CBCP Public Affairs Committee (PAC) executive secretary Fr. Jerome Secillano.

The “CBCP is a collegial body. Whatever stand on issues they have is always the fruit of their collective efforts,” he said.

He admitted it remains uncertain if the bishops would be issuing a statement on the matter.

“I hope they will. As I said, they will deliberate on it. If they are unanimous in deciding for it, they will definitely write one about it,” the CBCP official said.

Expected to attend the assembly are 81 active bishops, 43 retired bishops and five diocese administrators. With Evelyn Macairan

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