Congressmen encourage Cha-cha debates

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
Congressmen encourage Cha-cha debates
House Speaker Martin Romualdez on July 24, 2023.
STAR / KJ Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — Debates, for or against Charter change, are the friction necessary to polish the 1987 Constitution for it to become a gem that will finally pave the way for the Philippines to reach first-world status in the near future, lawmakers said.

“Let the free market of ideas prevail and intelligent discussions flourish – all for the good of the people – both now and the years to come,” Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said, as he supported a call of Speaker Martin Romualdez to push for Charter amendments.

Aside from Barbers, other key House leaders have joined the move, among them Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales Jr., House committee on constitutional amendments chair Rufus Rodriguez and Reps. LRay Villafuerte and Stella Quimbo.

Barbers, chairman of the House committee on dangerous drugs, said it is ironic that people have always been opposed to Charter change every time the issue is raised, even if they don’t know what is at stake yet, other than the oft-repeated term extensions of elected public officials.

“The knee-jerk reaction is unfair and uncalled for. We haven’t started anything and they’re shooting it down,” Barbers said in English and Filipino.

“Many provisions were inadvertently left unedited like the structure of the legislature, unicameral or bi-cameral (that’s why there are) conflicting provisions. This is proof that it was passed in haste, thus we need to correct to give it consistency,” he said.

Barbers was probably referring to the two opposing schools of thought among lawyers, wherein the recurring question is: Should changes in the Constitution be undertaken by both houses of Congress, or not?

Senators and congressmen’s view are locked on this issue, with senators insisting voting should be done separately since bringing them into the bigger chamber of the House will only dilute their vote, considering that they are only 24, compared to the more than 300 congressmen.

Quimbo, who represents the second district of Marikina, stressed the need to lift prohibitive provisions in the Constitution, which she says have left Manila as the laggard among its nearest neighbors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“As our economy moves forward in 2024 and beyond, there is a growing consensus that reforms are needed in various areas to improve the state of our nation and to uplift the lives of the Filipino people,” she said.

“The bottom line is we need to send a certain and predictable signal to the global investor community: The Philippines is ready, able and willing to accept foreign direct investments,” Quimbo, a former commissioner of the Philippine Competition Commission, said.

‘Bagong Pilipinas’

Supporters say the House-initiated Charter change complements President Marcos’ “Bagong Pilipinas” theme, which needs a new charter that should replace the 36-year-old Constitution, since it was crafted during the turbulent years after the first Marcos administration.

Gonzales protected Marcos from speculations that he may have something to do with the statement given by the Speaker that this move to amend the 1987 Constitution had his blessings.

“This is a legislative work and that’s a different body, that’s the Executive department. I think the Legislative will be the one to initiate this,” he said.

Gonzales, who resigned from the once ruling PDP-Laban party and joined the Lakas-CMD party of Romualdez after he named former president Rodrigo Duterte as the one who has been vilifying the House, said the objective is to have a new charter.

“So, that’s our objective: Bagong Konstitusyon ng Bagong Pilipinas. How can we work in a new environment under a new Philippines when its constitution is still or remains old?” Gonzales said.

He said the target timeline of the new charter change move is to be able to present it to Marcos before he delivers his third State of the Nation Address on July 22, just a year before the midterm and senatorial elections in May 2025.

“I think we can get the target, I think before the SONA if ever. I think we can get it with the coordination with other congressmen and members of the Upper House. So we’ll try to pursue it (Cha-cha) next year, we will tackle the amendments to the Constitution,” Gonzales said.

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