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Duterte allies push Cha-cha

Malacañang reiterated yesterday that President Duterte does not seek to remain in power beyond his term and that notions about extending it are but “rumors.” King Rodriguez/Presidential Photo
Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) – January 8, 2021 – 12:00am

Duterte wants end to party-list system – Sotto

MANILA, Philippines — Two senators want the Senate and the House of Representatives to convene the 18th Congress as a constituent assembly to introduce limited amendments to the 1987 Constitution.

In filing Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) No. 2, Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Francis Tolentino said “reforms are needed to be introduced to the 33-year-old Constitution in order to aid the country in achieving economic growth, especially during this time of rising global uncertainty.”

Both said the changes they sought are only limited to the economic and democratic representation provisions of the Constitution, although various sectors are saying this will either be for the extension of the terms of incumbent officials or for the postponement of the 2022 general elections.

Malacañang reiterated yesterday that President Duterte does not seek to remain in power beyond his term and that notions about extending it are but “rumors.”

“The rumors have no basis. They are just rumors. The President has made it clear. He does not intend to remain even a minute beyond his term of office on June 30, 2022,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in yesterday’s press briefing.

Both Dela Rosa and Tolentino said “the interest of the Filipino people will be served by introducing meaningful reforms reinforcing not only economic growth and development but also more pragmatic democratic representation.”

They pointed out in their resolution that “since the ratification of the Constitution on Feb. 2, 1987, certain exigencies, events, and developments have arisen which necessitate the introduction of amendments that not only allow the fundamental law of the land to address such exigencies but also protect the important values and ideals the nation was founded upon.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III said in an online press conference that Duterte does not want a term extension or a postponement of the 2022 elections but, rather, only wanted the party-list system amended to address the country’s problem with insurgents.

He noted that this intention was made clear by the President during a meeting with some lawmakers and ranking members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Malacañang two months ago.

Duterte believed that the amendment or abolition of the party-list system in the Constitution would address the problem on insurgency.

“The intention was never to extend term limits. (President Duterte said) ‘I want this problem of the CPP-NPA solved and the best way is we remove the party-list system or change it in the Constitution’,” Sotto stressed, quoting Duterte during the meeting with some lawmakers and AFP officials, in reference to the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People’s Army.

He pointed out that Duterte did not say “term limits, an extension of terms, (or) no election.”

“He was very hot on the CPP-NPA issue. For him, some members of the House of Representatives, particularly the Makabayan bloc, were sympathizers or connected with the CPP-NPA,” Sotto said.

While he noted that discussing Charter change with only 17 months left in the administration “is almost impossible,” amending only two provisions could be done.

Sotto clarified he is disclosing what they have discussed in the meeting to dispel speculations that the administration wants to open the Constitution in order to defer the 2022 elections.

“Bottom line, I do not have yet a consensus of whether the majority of the members of the Senate will be able to do it or not,” Sotto noted, while clarifying that Charter change is not synonymous with constitutional amendments.

For Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, talking about Charter change in the final stretch of the Duterte administration is an exercise in futility.

“It will be a total waste of time. It won’t fly. Our history tells us that Cha-cha has a zero chance of success in any administration that is already in the home stretch. It is a sin to be even talking about changing the Constitution when there is still no end in sight to the pandemic when the government is struggling to secure funding for COVID-19 vaccines, and when the country is still reeling from the continuing impact of the pandemic and the recent typhoons,” Drilon said.

He vowed to oppose it along with Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson echoed Drilon’s take on the resolution, saying in a text message that “it’s like taking one big step into a mousetrap, or even a quicksand for that matter.”

“Having said that, I think all of us 24 senators should discuss this matter very carefully before we even consider plenary debates on the said resolution if indeed there is one filed,” Lacson said.

Pangilinan said calling an all-senators’ caucus might settle the issue on how to move forward on the resolution.

“In fairness to the Charter change proponents the resolution was filed prior to the PSG vaccine controversy,” he said, referring to the controversy of the Presidential Security Group receiving a COVID vaccine from China that is yet to be tested and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for safety and efficacy.

Past survey results showed that a sizeable majority of Filipinos are opposed to changing the 1987 Constitution.

Cha-cha hearings

The House committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Ako Bicol party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. has scheduled the continuation of hearings on the proposed changes to the Constitution on Wednesday, Jan. 13.

Garbin said this would specifically tackle RBH No. 2, which Speaker Lord Allan Velasco also authored at the outset of the 18th Congress in July 2019 and which proposed amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution under Articles XII, XIV and XVI to allow foreign ownership of lands, educational institutions, public utilities and mass media companies and lift the 40-percent foreign ownership restriction on corporations.

RBH No. 2 also proposes to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in those provisions.

“The directive of the Speaker is to look into those proposals that call for amending the restrictive economic provisions, so we scheduled a hearing on Wednesday next week,” Garbin revealed in an interview.

He noted that other proposed constitutional amendments—such as the proposed shift to federal form of government, term extension and removal of term limits—are not included in Velasco’s bill.

“That’s only confined to the resolution of the Speaker which is focused on economic provisions. The resolution does not speak of any political provisions, term limits or term extensions. It’s only confined to economic provisions,” Garbin pointed out.

Upon assuming the House leadership last October, Speaker Velasco has expressed support to pending proposals in Congress to amend the 1987 Constitution and committed that the House would tackle these measures in the remaining one-and-a-half years of the 18th Congress.

Velasco believed that charter change is necessary to address many institutional and systemic problems in government.

“Cha-cha is needed, especially I think if we actually change the Charter and then it would be in line with the President’s anti-corruption drive. Our Charter has since not been touched and looking at it, the problem could be in this. There are a lot of studies conducted already and I think this administration could be the right time to push for this. I just hope that the time given is enough to finish this,” he said over PTV.

The Office of Vice President Leni Robredo condemned the Cha-cha move while the country is still dealing with the impact of COVID.

“It’s amazing that even as we continue to struggle with COVID-19, lost jobs and a shrinking economy, we have ‘leaders’ who still find ways to waste our people’s time and money,” Robredo’s spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said. “Can we first make sure that every Filipino gets vaccinated before wasting time on Cha-cha?”

The Makabayan bloc also objected to the plan, saying charter change should not be prioritized at this time when the nation still faces the pandemic.

“We are in the middle of a pandemic and there’s just one-and-a-half years left in Duterte’s term. They are just using economic provisions as an excuse but we all know the objective is to pursue the proposed political changes,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a virtual press conference.

Roque claimed that Duterte’s priority is to respond to COVID-19 but added that the executive branch respects the decision of some lawmakers to push for amendments to the Constitution.

“The President does not need to approve that (efforts to introduce amendments to the charter). That is the duty of Congress. Only the Congress can start the process for charter change, not the President. So we respect that and for now, our number one priority is COVID-19, especially the discussions on vaccines,” the Palace spokesman said.

“So the President has no other top priority but to end the pandemic by giving vaccines to our countrymen,” he added. — Alexis Romero, Edu Punay, Janvic Mateo, Elizabeth Marcelo, Evelyn Macairan, Romina Cabrera