âCha-cha still not Congress priorityâ
Sotto said the consultative committee (Concom), which completed last Friday a draft federal constitution, has yet to furnish legislators their copies of the document. Hence, discussing the matter would be “premature,” he said.
AP/Bullit Marquez/File
‘Cha-cha still not Congress priority’
Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - July 8, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Charter change is still not a priority in Congress at this time even if the special panel formed by President Duterte to review and draft a replacement for the 1987 Constitution has completed its work, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said yesterday.

Sotto said the consultative committee (Concom), which completed last Friday a draft federal constitution, has yet to furnish legislators their copies of the document. Hence, discussing the matter would be “premature,” he said.

President Duterte will receive tomorrow his copy of the draft federal constitution, which will also be made public after brief ceremonies at Malacañang.

If and when the draft constitution is sent to Congress for its consideration, Sotto said the lawmakers will not take up the matter immediately.

“As of now everything stands as a proposal. Congress is here to study it. We will study every provision. We can end up changing everything or just one or two parts of it,” Sotto said over dwIZ.

And before anything else, Sotto said the Senate and the House of Representatives must first pass a joint resolution to convene a constituent assembly to take up the proposed amendments to the Constitution.

But approving the joint resolution may in itself prove to be a thorny issue, as the Senate and the House hold different views on how voting would be done on amendments approved.

Many members of the House insist that voting should be done jointly by both chambers of Congress, something which no senator would agree to since they do not have the numbers to challenge any position taken by their House counterparts.

Sotto said the joint resolution would only be approved in the Senate if senators would be assured of separate voting.

Scheduling the deliberations on charter change is another matter because once President Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address and the proposed 2019 national budget is submitted to Congress, the latter would become the top priority.

In October, senators running for reelection would have to file their certificates of candidacy and prepare for the 2019 mid-term elections. This means many of them would also have different priorities, the Senate president said.

Be he stressed leaders of Congress would meet to take up the draft constitution as soon as they get their official copy.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson also said it is too early to talk about the draft constitution when Congress has yet to decide whether amendments would be made through a constituent assembly or constitutional convention.

Monday meeting

Concom spokesman Ding Generoso said the 22 members of the panel chaired by former chief justice Reynato Puno will meet with Duterte at Malacañang in the afternoon to hand over a copy of the draft constitution.

“The final copy will be made available to the public after the meeting with President Duterte,” Generoso said.

Generoso said it took them two days to proof read the document before they had it printed on Friday.

Presenting the draft charter to Malacañang will not be the end of the committee’s work, Generoso said.

He said the committee still has to make a complete report and put together all annotations, journals and proceedings.

Regional consultation and presentation of the draft constitution, he stressed, will continue even after the submission of a final copy to Duterte.

Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay likened the belated consultations on federalism to putting the cart before the horse.

“This patently places the cart before the horse because the approval of the federal charter by the Concom is a fait accompli and there is no more time to deliberate on and incorporate regional inputs before the draft is submitted to the President,” he said.

He added that some of the planned consultations were held over the weekend.

Lagman pointed out that the consultations were “overtly designed to secure, if not coerce, popular anointment of the consultative committee’s handiwork.”

He also urged the Puno panel to tell the public how it came up with its proposal to shift the nation to the federal system.

He said recent surveys show that most Filipinos are against shifting to the federal system and are not even aware of such a governmental setup.

He said only three regions – Metro Manila, Calabarzon and Central Luzon – are financially capable of becoming federal states.

He said the only explanation for the Concom’s federalism proposal is that such shift is the advocacy of the President and his congressional allies.

Party-list group Kabataan said it would oppose the planned new constitution as it could prolong Duterte’s stay in power.

“We have made our stand clear, and we reiterate that the changes inserted in this new Charter will bring more harm than good to the Filipino people. Worse, it will give the President an opportunity to have an unlimited stay in power, which will surely translate to higher number of killings and human rights violations as what has happened during his two years in office,” the group said.

It took issue with the statement of presidential spokesman Harry Roque that the House of Representatives would surely consider the Puno committee’s report since Duterte allies dominate the chamber.

“The President’s camp shamelessly flaunts its direct control of the House of Representatives, putting the welfare of the people and the future of our nation prey to a mere numbers game,” Kabataan said.

It vowed to spearhead protests against the proposed shift to the federal system.

“We should block Duterte’s attempts of fully installing himself as a dictator,” it said.

’87 Charter enough

Ousted chief magistrate Maria Lourdes Sereno said yesterday there is nothing in the current Constitution that prevents local executives from carrying out development initiatives.

In a forum organized by the Movement Against Tyranny in Quezon City, Sereno also said the push for federalism might be another ploy to keep Duterte in power and reward his officials and supporters with powerful positions.

“There is nothing that will prevent this present Congress from giving any economic benefit to the regions or the provinces that they cannot do so now within the present Constitution and using their legislative powers,” she said.

“The power of the national government to share revenues and even devolve some of its functions is already a recognized principle in the Constitution,” Sereno said.

She said Congress can exercise its oversight functions to ensure the central government does its job.

“There is no benefit in the regions or provisions that could not be given through legislation,” she said.

“Congress can already do that, then what is the reason for this charter change?” she added.

Instead of shifting to a federal form of government, Sereno suggested that Congress pass a law that would impose penalties on the national government if it is slow to respond to the needs of underdeveloped regions.

She said the Office of the Ombudsman and the Commission on Audit can also exercise their powers over the government agencies.

Sereno added the issue on the unfair distribution of funds could be addressed by the recent ruling of the SC increasing the share of local government units in the Internal Revenue Allotment.

She also warned of the possibility of double taxation as regional governments could impose their own taxes to shore up funds.

“They can enter into joint venture economic agreements within their ranks, so how are we going to resolve conflicts between powerful forces within the present region,” she pointed out. – Emmanuel Tupas, Robertzon Ramirez, Jess Diaz

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