In final vote, House approves charter change

The Philippine Star
In final vote, House approves charter change
Hours before the resolution was put to a vote, Arroyo told reporters that the House would not force the Charter change (Cha-cha) issue by raising it in today’s joint session with senators on President Duterte’s one-year martial law extension request.

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives, by a vote of 224 to 22 with three abstentions, yesterday approved on third and final reading its version of a federal constitution.

The draft charter is contained in Resolution of Both Houses No. 15, of which Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is one of the principal authors.

Hours before the resolution was put to a vote, Arroyo told reporters that the House would not force the Charter change (Cha-cha) issue by raising it in today’s joint session with senators on President Duterte’s one-year martial law extension request.

Some senators have expressed fears that House members would spring a surprise on them by tackling Cha-cha in the joint session, saying they would walk out if the latter did so. 

“No, no, no. No connection,” Arroyo said when asked if Cha-cha would be tackled. 

“We took the mode of voting separately, so procedurally, I don’t think that can be done. It’s like passing legislation, except the vote required is three-fourths (of all members), rather than majority vote. And then, just like any other legislation, we take it to the Senate,” she said.

Senators have said Cha-cha would be “dead on arrival” in their chamber.

Arroyo earlier said she would try to push Cha-cha as far as she could in the hope that the next Congress “can continue the work.”

The House version of a federal charter retains the present presidential system of government but with the president and vice president elected as one ticket, similar to the practice in the US.

It also scraps the term limits for House members and other local officials in the present Constitution.

It does not immediately create federal states, leaving that power to Congress, which would be mandated to pass an enabling law upon petition by any interested region.

One of those who voted against the proposed federal constitution is Rep. Lito Atienza of party-list group Buhay.

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

Atienza said rushing the drafting and approval of a federal charter “would not only deprive us time to tackle other important measures, but at the same time, this would sacrifice quality study on the revisions to the Constitution.”

He said just as important as the proposed revisions to the Constitution is the proposal to shift the nation from the presidential to the federal system of government.  

Atienza added that he has always been vocal since the first day of discussions on Cha-cha that “federalism is not the solution to the problems of the nation.”

“The public should be informed through a national debate or forum to hear the pros and cons of federalism. The number one promise of those pushing for federalism is the strengthening of local autonomy. But this is already enshrined in the present Constitution,” Atienza stressed.

He pointed out that government should obey the mandate of the Constitution and the Local Government Code (LGC) in strengthening local government units (LGUs).

“We will insist that the constitutional mandate and the provisions of the (LGC) be respected – that functions be decentralized and funding be provided to LGUs to use in their development programs,” the former three-term Manila mayor said.

If local and regional governance needs to be further strengthened, then Congress, instead of mangling the Constitution, could pass laws to achieve such goal, he said.

“You don’t burn the whole house down to correct some of its defects,” he said.


The following are the salient features of the proposed federal constitution:

• It retains the present presidential structure of government with a president, vice president and Congress with a Senate and House of Representatives.

• It does not automatically create federal states, unlike the charter drafted by the presidential consultative committee on Cha-cha chaired by retired chief justice Reynato Puno. It gives such authority to Congress, which would be mandated to pass an enabling bill upon petition by any region or group of provinces wanting to convert into a federal state.

• The president and vice president are to be elected at large together. A vote for the president is a vote for the vice president to avoid a scenario where the president is at odds with the vice president.

• The president and vice president will have a term of office of four years with one reelection.

• A total of 24 senators would be voted at large and House members by districts, which Congress will determine on the basis of a population of 350,000, instead of the present 250,000.

• Like the president and vice president, senators and House members will have a term of office of four years. But the proposed new charter does not contain a reelection limit for members of Congress.

• The legislature will have a Commission on Appointments that has the same powers and composition (12 senators, 12 House members) as the one in the present Constitution. However, the speaker, instead of the Senate president, will be its ex-officio chairman.

• The draft proposes to return the country to the old two-political party system, instead of the current multiple-party setup.

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