Senators: Federal charter wonât pass muster
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate is too busy debating on the national budget, which the House of Representatives transmitted more than a month behind schedule.
Geremy Pintolo/File
Senators: Federal charter won’t pass muster
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - December 6, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senators are doubtful about the passage of the bill revising the 1987 Constitution for a shift to a presidential-bicameral-federal system as they devote their time to plenary debates on the 2019 national budget.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate is too busy debating on the national budget, which the House of Representatives transmitted more than a month behind schedule.

“(The) chances of the federal draft charter making it in the Senate at this point are very doubtful,” said Sotto. “(The House) should have submitted the (General Appropriations Bill) to us earlier so that we may have time to take up any other controversial measure.”

The Senate started plenary debates on the national budget as well as marathon debates yesterday.

Earlier on Tuesday, the House approved on second reading a draft bill authored by Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo revising the 1987 Constitution’s current form of government into a presidential-bicameral-federal system.

The measure was approved in plenary by a voice vote during deliberations presided over by House Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu, where amendments to Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 15 presented by ACT party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio were turned down.

RBH 15 seeks to propose revisions to the 1987 Constitution.

Under Arroyo’s draft Charter, the President elected in 2022 will have a term of four years and will be entitled to one re-election – just like in the US.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, the proposed measure is a “waste of time.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said a federal draft charter is an important issue that should be discussed thoroughly, noting that only three percent of Filipinos are in favor of the shift to federalism.

“People are more concerned about the prices of goods, wages and employment – not Charter change (Cha-cha),” Pangilinan said.

Sen. Francis Escudero does not think the Senate will be able to pass the measure “for lack of material time.”

Democratic process

Arroyo maintained that the draft bill was deliberated on and voted upon by all members of the House. 

“It was part of the democratic process, there was a debate. It was voted on. You ask the chairman,” she told reporters in a chance interview, as she refuted allegations that RBH 15 was railroaded by administration lawmakers. 

“I did not participate in the debate because, as I said, my only contribution there is the mechanism for setting up the federal states. The others are contributions of the other congressmen. They should answer for themselves,” Arroyo said. 

The Speaker advised the media to interview Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, regarding the status of the bill. 

“Because it passed on second reading, three days after the copy is circulated, we should be taking it up on third reading, hopefully that would be Monday,” the Pampanga lawmaker said, as they set a timetable for its passage before the Dec. 15 Christmas break. 

Arroyo explained that RBH 15 provides for a presidential-bicameral-federal system of government and empowers Congress to establish federal states when it is convened into a constituent assembly.

For his part, House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez lamented that senators have been uncooperative on the move to revise the 1987 Constitution, which he said was “crafted with vengeance... because the atmosphere then was anything that is Marcos is bad.” 

“It’s high time that we revise the Constitution. We should be mature enough to realize that the Constitution really needs revision,” Suarez told reporters during their weekly briefing.

But Suarez’s colleague in the minority, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza, wanted more debates in the plenary, saying he was sure Arroyo “would always want an open and healthy debate” on issues. 

“There’s absolutely no reason to rush this very important measure that will impact all of us. Let us not be like blind cows being stampeded over a cliff.  We should study this issue very thoroughly,” the former Manila mayor said. 

“It is impossible to discuss this crucial measure in just the few session days left,” Atienza noted. 

‘Address inflation’

Vice President Leni Robredo reiterated yesterday her appeal to members of Congress to prioritize more important measures that will help uplift the lives of the Filipino people instead of rushing to make changes in the 1987 Constitution.

Robredo said lawmakers have yet to address the surge of market prices caused by the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law this year.

“Instead of finding solutions to the problem brought about by this law, it’s clear that politicking is more important to the leadership of the House, which was showed by the passage of the House resolution on Cha-cha,” Robredo said.

“Congress should focus on bills that would lower the prices of consumer goods and provide jobs to our countrymen. Let’s prioritize our fellow Filipinos and the issues that are close to their stomach,” she added.

Robredo said the Duterte government is obviously not taking measures such as the Bawas Presyo Bill filed by her fellow Liberal Party member Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV as urgent.

“The safety net for the poor affected by the TRAIN law is delayed, (the administration) also took back its decision to suspend the excise tax on oil in 2019; and now they rush to change the system of government,” she said.

Former interior secretary Mar Roxas agreed with Robredo.

“The economy should be our number 1 priority,” Roxas said.

“Inflation is at 6.0 percent and that’s still high. People are feeling the pinch, especially now that Christmas is approaching,” he added.

Roxas doubted that Cha-cha would enable Filipinos to make ends meet.

“Worse, the current proposal removed the protection of Filipino enterprises against unfair foreign competition and trade practices. What chance will our small and medium enterprises have to survive without these protections?” he added.

Under Arroyo’s draft Charter, the president and vice president will be elected in tandem but will have the same powers and functions as in the current Constitution.

The draft federal charter will also retain a bicameral legislative where the House will be composed of not more than 300 members and the Senate composed of 24 senators. – With Delon Porcalla, Helen Flores

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