House panel sees quick passage of changes to Constitution
House constitutional amendments committee chair Rep. Alfredo Garbin (AKO BICOL party-list) speaks at the House of Representatives in this undated photo.
Released/AKO BICOL

House panel sees quick passage of changes to Constitution

Xave Gregorio (Philstar.com) - January 15, 2021 - 12:38pm

MANILA, Philippines — The chairperson of the House committee on constitutional amendments guaranteed the early passage of proposed amendments to the Constitution, heeding the call of a House leader for the swift approval of the proposals.

Rep. Alfredo Garbin (AKO BICOL party-list) told Philstar.com on Friday that it would only take them about two to three more hearings before they approve the proposal of House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (Marinduque) to amend the “restrictive” economic provisions in the Charter.

“We will just finish the time given to members of the committee who will ask questions,” Garbin said in a text message.

House Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City) called on Friday for the panel to approve proposed amendments to the Constitution early, saying that the proposals have been fully discussed.

“All resource persons have already been heard and there is overwhelming support for such amendments,” Rodriguez said in a statement. “Considering the tight timeline, I call for an early approval of the amendments to these economic provisions.”

What does this mean?

Approving the proposed amendments to the Constitution at the committee level would clear the way for these to be tackled by all House members at the plenary. 

Rodriguez said this would now allow the House to convert itself as a constituent assembly (con-ass), one of three ways to propose amendments to the Constitution.

But constitutional law professor Tony La Viña told Philstar.com that the Senate would have to convene into a con-ass too before the House also acts as a con-ass.

These views radically differ from Garbin’s opinion that his committee is already standing as a con-ass, even without the participation of the rest of the House and of the Senate.

Rodriguez said the deliberations of the constitutional amendments panel are only “preparatory and recommendatory” and are not yet the acts of a con-ass.

Where does Congress stand?

Velasco, who pushed to restart discussions on Charter change to amend the Constitution’s economic provisions, wants debates on the proposed amendments to be finished before the end of the year so these can be presented to the public for ratification during the 2022 elections.

Garbin is optimistic that the House will be able to meet Velasco’s timeline “as long as the Senate will actively participate.”

The Senate, however, appears to be cold to charter change, with its leader, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III telling CNN Philippines’ “The Source” that he is still not convinced that there is a need to amend provisions in the Constitution.

Sotto also indicated that he would not be calling for a caucus with all senators until the House passes proposed amendments to the Constitution at the plenary.

House members, on the other hand, are far more enthusiastic with the bid to propose changes to the Constitution, with House political leaders signing Wednesday a manifesto backing the move.

Garbin’s committee restarted deliberations on Velasco’s proposal, or Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, on Wednesday. The debates were off to a rough start, with lawmakers raising questions on how Congress would proceed with Charter change.

Velasco’s proposal seeks to allow Congress to lift the constitutional restrictions on foreign investments in land, natural resources, public utilities, educational institutions, media and advertising.

He wants this done by inserting the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the provisions, which would give Congress the leeway to pass laws to change the constitutional requirements.

House members have repeatedly said that they would only propose changes to economic provisions, but political observers are wary that any move to tinker with the Constitution would open the floodgates to any kind of amendments, including those that would benefit lawmakers such as term extensions or lifting of term limits.

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