House can't exclude Senate from Charter change talks — Pimentel

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
House can't exclude Senate from Charter change talks � Pimentel
Inside the building of the Senate of the Philippines
The STAR / File photo

MANILA, Philippines — A senator on Monday cautioned against brewing plans by the House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution without the Senate’s involvement, saying that pushing ahead without them would be “unconstitutional” and “impossible.”

Leaders of the House of Representatives announced last week that they would revive discussions on Charter change in 2024 following a failed attempt earlier this year when its proposal for a constitutional convention died at the upper chamber. 

House Senior Deputy Speaker Dong Gonzales earlier told reporters that the House is now studying other methods — such as a people’s initiative and a constitutional assembly — to take its Cha-cha plans off the ground this time.

While Gonzales did not categorically say that the lower chamber can push for Cha-cha without the Senate’s involvement, he said that a people’s initiative (which would involve nationwide voting on Charter amendments) backed by at least 3% of voters in each district would reflect the “people’s decision.” 

Sen. Koko Pimentel has spoken against possible attempts to exclude the Senate from the Cha-cha process, saying in an interview with CNN Philippines on Monday that the move will not prosper without the upper chamber’s support.

Pimentel added that only a few senators are in favor of amending the Charter at this time and could withdraw their support with such a move.

“If that’s the attitude of our colleagues at the House and they are announcing it, all the more that they will lose the support of senators,” Pimentel said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri remains cool to Cha-cha talks, saying in a radio interview over the weekend that the Senate would have to get the public’s pulse first.

But ultimately, Zubiri said, Charter amendments will not be necessary to entice foreign investments due to the recently passed Public Service Act — a controversial measure that allows 100% foreign ownership of public services in the country.

However, more than a year since the passage of the Public Service Act, the measure has yet to be implemented and is now facing two separate Supreme Court petitions challenging its constitutionality. Cha-cha advocates have also cited the stalled implementation of the law, among other arguments, in supporting their push to amend the Charter and lift economic restrictions. 

House Speaker Martin Romualdez said that the lower chamber would renew its push to change the Constitution in 2024 to lift economic restrictions on the entry of foreign capital and investments in the country. 

More of the same 

There have been several attempts to change the Charter in previous Congresses through bills filed by lawmakers, but they were often forced to shelve their Cha-cha plans when the bill died at the Senate.  

During the 18th Congress, the Senate also expressed a lukewarm view on amending the Charter in contrast with their House counterparts, who were then pushing to amend the Constitution to create a federal type of government.

In 2018, senators rebuked the attempts of then-Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez to convene lawmakers into a constitutional assembly to propose changes to the 1987 Constitution, stressing that the upper chamber should maintain their independence instead of being outnumbered by the House by voting as one.

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