Senate seen to junk Cha-cha

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Senate seen to junk Cha-cha
Session Hall of the House of Representatives of the Philippines.
The STAR / Michael Varcas, File photo

Not enough votes for 3/4 approval

MANILA, Philippines — It seems that not everyone in the Senate is on board with Charter change. Sen. Cynthia Villar said “there’s a chance” that seven senators, including herself and four other allies of President Marcos, would vote against the proposed measure to amend certain economic provisions of the Constitution.

“They claim they are only after the economic provisions. But when they open up the Constitution, nobody can stop them from changing other provisions, including the political portions. That’s not good,” Villar noted over the weekend.

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said he and up to eight other senators had already decided to vote against Resolution of Both Houses 6 (RBH6) – which seeks to amend select economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution – and among those who would definitely block its passage was Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros.

Instead of amending the Constitution, Villar said that business groups want the government to focus on the effective implementation of the ease of doing business law and addressing the problem of corruption.

“I have talked to other businessmen. Actually, what they want is the ease of doing business and less corruption,” Villar said.

She maintained that the ongoing proposal to amend certain economic provisions of the Constitution would not really make an impact on the economy, and noted that efforts to improve the country’s economy could be addressed through legislation.

Pimentel agreed with Villar that the government could help improve the lives of Filipinos without the need to amend the Constitution.

He said the government could initiate programs to promote the fight against corruption, ensure ease of doing business, improve food production to address inflation, organize the education of the youth so that they are prepared for the future, lower electricity costs and take care of the elderly, retirees, and people with disabilities.

“We have noticed that this already leads to a big change towards the progress of Filipino life. There is no need for constitutional amendments,” Pimentel said in a Viber message to The STAR.

He added that the government should also ensure a very transparent budget process.

“Let’s make the Philippines a manufacturing place, because manufacturing will surely create jobs,” Pimentel pointed out.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri said RBH6 needs the votes of three-fourths or 18 of the 24 senators to pass before it could be submitted to a bicameral conference, and eventually, to a plebiscite for people’s approval.

Experts in the technical vocational and private education sector will be invited in next week’s public hearing of the Senate subcommittee on constitutional amendments tackling the proposal for Charter change, Sen. Sonny Angara said.

Angara, tasked to conduct hearings on RBH6, said several personalities and experts, from the technical-vocational (tech voc) and private education sectors, have been invited to the hearing tomorrow.

“It’s a continuation of the session for higher education. More were invited from the tech voc and private education sector,” he said in a Viber message to Senate reporters.

Angara’s subcommittee had conducted three public hearings, and the first hearing had legal luminaries who had varying opinions on RBH6. The second hearing was attended by business executives, and the third was participated in by private education institutions.

Earlier, Zubiri welcomed the statement of Commission on Elections Chairman George Garcia that the poll body is amenable to holding a plebiscite on Charter amendments alongside the 2025 midterm elections.

In fact, the Senate president noted that a whopping P13 billion can be saved if the plebiscite was synchronized with next year’s elections, a huge amount that can be used elsewhere for the welfare of Filipinos.

Repeal legally better than amendment

Retired chief justice Reynato Puno has offered a rather seamless solution to “ambiguities” that were inadvertently committed in the drafting of the 1987 Constitution, recommending that a “repeal” would legally be better than amending the Charter.

“Just repeal the three restrictive provisions, which we want to be out,” Puno suggested to lawmakers, referring to Articles 12 (public utilities), 14 (education) and 16 (advertising).

“In addition, you just repeal Article 2 Section 19 of the Constitution which states ‘the State shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.’ Include that in the repeal,” he proposed during the hearing of the committee of the whole.

“We are now on uncharted waters,” Puno – a highly-respected constitutionalist who was also one of the framers of the Constitution – pointed out, warning that both efforts of the Senate and the House to amend the Charter may all be put to naught in a potential “constitutional challenge.”

This is because the manner of voting, either separately or jointly, is vague in the Charter which runs the risk of being questioned in the Supreme Court; and the proposed insertion of the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” may arrogate unto Congress the real sovereign will of the people.

“Once this case is before the SC, we do not know the time it would be decided and we do not know how the court will decide. If that happens, all these wishes of us, all these desires of us, that we invite foreign businesses, will not come to reality,” Puno warned, essentially due to uncertainty.

The “rigid” requirement of the Constitution – as succinctly and unequivocally stated in the phrase “sovereignty resides in the people, and all government authority emanates from them” – simply means the Filipino citizens are supreme, even more than elected public officials.

“This could be a waiver of the people to approve or disapprove any change to the Constitution, or as a delegation of the people’s power to Congress,” Puno emphasized, adding that such exercise of senators and congressmen will “only be valid” once the people approve it in a plebiscite. The referendum, or the “approval by the people cannot be set aside, cannot be short-circuited.”

“So again, these are some of the constitutional problems. What is the way out? My respectful submission is to just do away with this phrase ‘unless otherwise provided by law,’” he said.

The veteran jurist, who has always been known for his scholarly ponencias, also pointed out that the participation of the people, or them having the final say, has always been present in all of the country’s Constitutions – from 1935, 1973, up to the 1987 or the post-Marcos Sr. era charter.

Puno reiterated this is non-negotiable, since such power has “not been delegated” to Congress, and doing it will open the “floodgates to amendments” through ordinary legislation, “effectively short-circuiting the power of the people to approve or disapprove changes to the Constitution.”

“Thus subverting their (people’s) sovereignty,” the 83-year-old veteran jurist, who spent half of his life and career in the judiciary, asserted.

He believes that if these provisions are repealed, then Congress can enact laws that could entice more foreign direct investments into the country. — Delon Porcalla

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