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Opinion

Settle Cha-cha mode at LEDAC

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Two veteran lawmakers who figured prominently in past attempts to amend the country’s 1987 Constitution took me down memory lane amid the latest revival of Charter change (Cha-cha) moves. Specifically, they are erstwhile Senate president Franklin Drilon and former Negros Occidental congressman Margarito Teves, who both tried to help amend the Constitution in the past but their efforts ended in vain.

Coming out with individual recollections, Drilon and Teves were actually reacting to the so-called “4th mode of Cha-cha” published in this corner last Jan. 17. It dwelt on the counter proposal of Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri to lift certain existing economic restrictions under the country’s Constitution through Cha-cha by legislation. As proposed, the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” will be added to proposed amendments to these restrictive economic provisions. Should the amendments be approved, Congress will still have to pass the enabling laws.

 While the amendment of the Constitution provided three methods, a constituent assembly (con-ass); a constitutional convention (con-con) and people’s initiative, Zubiri proposed that Cha-cha can be done separately by both chambers without having to meet physically in Congress. Co-authored by Senate president pro-tempore Loren Legarda and Sen. Sonny Angara, Zubiri filed last week Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No.6.

Zubiri argued for the Senate compromise mode that will allow Congress by mere legislation to relax existing constitutional restrictions such as the prevailing foreign ownership restrictions up to 40 percent only in public services, education and advertising. The Senate chief echoed the majority sentiments in favor of doing Cha-cha but limited only to these economic provisions. 

The proposed economic Cha-cha legislation obviously aims to deflect wholesale amendments of the Constitution from politics-related motives. These include the long-standing wish of many Filipino politicians to lift the existing term limits on all elected officials of the land and shift to unicameral or parliamentary system of government that will consequently abolish the Senate. Thus, the Zubiri formula was described as a “self-preservation” alternative on the part of the senators.

As explained by Zubiri, their proposed mode of amending the Constitution was, in fact, attempted in the past, with Drilon as one of the prime movers at the Senate in 2011. To which Drilon confirmed through a viber message sent to this corner. Quoting Drilon verbatim:

 “For the record: I was the original proponent, in 2011, of amending the Constitution via a Bicameral Constituent Assembly, but the amendment will follow the process involved in enacting ordinary law; provided, however, that the proposed constitutional amendment would be approved by 3/4 vote of the Senate and the House, voting separately, without being assembled as one body, and subject to the people’s ratification in a plebiscite called for the purpose.”

 Drilon went on to explain: “The House insisted that the Senate and the House be assembled as one body as a constituent assembly. The Senate disagreed because the moment Congress is jointly assembled, a joint voting can be proposed, and the Senate will be obviously outvoted. This is the safeguard that the Senate wanted: we can introduce amendments as a BICAMERAL CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY, WITHOUT REQUIRING A JOINT SESSION, (underscoring supplied) where the Senate will be outvoted. That is the reason why no amendment was proposed.”

For his part, Teves sought to clarify that his consistent “position has always been to lift or remove outright only the restrictive economic provisions in the Constitution.” Teves maintains “the fastest and least expensive process” to do Cha-cha is through a Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) of Congress convening as a constituent assembly.

“This is in line with the proposal of Senate President Zubiri who recently filed RBH No. 6 and is reportedly supported by Speaker (Martin) Romualdez,” Teves noted.

The process of approving the resolution by both Houses, Teves pointed out, includes the ratification by our people through a plebiscite. Teves believes this “can be done within six months, especially if both houses of Congress can mutually agree to allocate one day a week out of their session days for legislative hearings and debate on the proposed amendments of pertinent economic provisions.”

Teves was speaking from experience during his stint as delegate to the 1971-1972 Con-con. Teves later served for three consecutive terms as congressman of the third district of Negros Oriental (1987-1998). He was then the president of the Land Bank of the Philippines when he got appointed as finance secretary in July 2005 until the end of the Arroyo presidency in June 2010.  

Teves recalled many different studies have already been conducted by various groups and individuals on the merits of this resolution since the late 1990s and up to the present. He cited the committee on constitutional amendments and other relevant committee members in the House and the Senate, as well as their legislative staff, can benefit from these studies, update the same and make their recommendations to the entire House and Senate members separately.

“Future congresses can impose limitations, regulations or even reimpose these restrictions should circumstances or conditions warrant those adjustments, just like what most countries in the world and our ASEAN peers have done, thru ordinary legislation and not via the Constitution,” Teves asserted.

The Zubiri-led revival of the economic Cha-cha legislation came on the heels of surreptitious attempts to launch Cha-cha via people’s initiative (PI).

Zubiri disclosed no less than President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) strongly objected to such “divisive” mode that has even become more controversial amid reported use of government funds to convince people to sign petitions calling for Cha-cha. Thus, PI has earned the monicker as “politicos’ initiatives” over allegations of certain national and local politicians bankrolling it.

According to Zubiri, he recently had talks with PBBM and Speaker Romualdez in very “colorful and vigorous discussions” on the PI controversies. Whatever mode of Cha-cha, the key leaders from both chambers of the 19th Congress could take it up with PBBM in the scheduled Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting on Thursday (Jan.25) at Malacañang.

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