P9.5 billion for Con-con ‘a drop in the bucket’ – congressman

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
P9.5 billion for Con-con �a drop in the bucket� � congressman
A photo of an attendant of a gas station holding up a stretched P1,000 polymer banknote he received from a customer on July 12, 2022.
The Philippine STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — For one of the proponents of the holding of a constitutional convention (Con-con) to amend the 1987 Constitution, the P9.5-billion budget needed for Charter change is “just a drop in the bucket.”

In an interview with “The Chiefs” on Cignal TV’s One News Tuesday night, Kabayan party-list Rep. Ron Salo said P9.5 billion is very small if the goals of amending the economic provisions of the Charter are realized.

“If our budget is P5 trillion something (P5.268 trillion), what is P9 billion something? It’s just a drop in the bucket,” Salo said.

Further illustrating his point, the lawmaker said the cost of changing the Charter is minimal, considering that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) bring in some P1.5 trillion in remittances every year and they could benefit from amending the Constitution.

“If we can create domestic opportunities for them (OFWs) so they no longer have to leave, what is P9 billion?” he asked.

Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved on second reading Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 on changing the Charter through hybrid Con-con, which shall be composed of 304 delegates.

Under the resolution, the cost of holding an election for Con-con delegates alongside the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) in October would be around P1.5 billion.

Aside from this, the Con-con proper and the plebiscite for ratification of the new Charter are estimated to cost P5 billion and P3 billion, respectively, bringing the total to P9.5 billion.

The measure proposes that 80 percent of the delegates shall be elected by the public while the remaining 20 percent shall be appointed by the President.

Each of these delegates shall receive P10,000 per diem.

But according to Salo, this allowance is underestimated as it does not yet include the staff who would help the delegates “craft, perform and function.”

“I have not read the provision for staff support. But I am thinking, where would they get (the budget for staff)? Most likely, P10,000 won’t be enough for that,” he pointed out.

Amid criticism that such per diem is too much, Salo said the amount is “justifiable,” considering the “value of the functions that they are going to do.”

The lawmaker gave assurance that the passage of RBH No. 6 was not rushed by the House because there were many hearings and public consultations conducted before the approval.

Asked for comment on the opposition to Con-con raised by Sen. Robinhood Padilla, head of Senate committee on constitutional amendments, Salo maintained that Con-con is more “inclusive” than the constituent assembly (con-ass) being pushed by the senator because the delegates will be mostly elected by voters.

“In con-ass, the sentiment is that there is a conflict of interest because we (legislators) would also be the ones to sit (there). That is always the issue, that most likely personal interest will prevail,” he said.

Funding bill

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez has filed an accompanying bill that will provide funding for the holding of the Con-con.

House Bill 7532, authored by the chair of the House committee on constitutional amendments, was taken up by the House in plenary yesterday and signals the start of debates on RBH No. 6.

In his sponsorship speech, Rodriguez proposed that the source of appropriation for the implementation of RBH No. 6 “shall be charged against any available appropriations in the General Appropriations Act (GAA).”

“Thereafter, the amount necessary for the operations of the constitutional convention and the subsequent plebiscite shall be included in the annual GAA,” he added.

Under his bill, the Con-con shall be composed of 251 elected delegates and appointed sectoral representatives constituting 20 percent of total delegates. This means the number of appointed delegates shall be 63 for a total of 314 delegates to the Con-con.

“The election of delegates and appointment of sectoral representatives along with constitutionalists and experts will ensure the balance of views and quality of the proposals of the convention,” Rodriguez said.

His bill provides for the election of delegates to be simultaneous with the BSKE in October.

Rodriguez said his measure also “allows emoluments for the delegates amounting to P10,000 for every day of actual attendance and entitlement to necessary traveling and lodging expenses.”

It also sets the term of office of the delegates on Nov. 21, 2023 until June 30, 2024, among other provisions.

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