President Benigno Aquino 3rd has not given any orders to his allies in Congress to start the process of Charter change but some of his supporters at the House of Representatives have begun considering simultaneous amendments to some of the political and economic provisions of the Constitution.
House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales 2nd on Tuesday said lawmakers can introduce political amendments that will allow the President to extend his term beyond 2016 while debates are conducted over economic amendments that would relax the restrictions on foreign investors.
Gonzales broached the idea at the resumption of debates over Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 1 authored by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., which seeks to lift the 40 percent restriction on foreign ownership of public utilities such as power, mass media, water, telecommunications and land.
Aquino last week said he was open to Charter change or Cha-cha that could lead to his term extension.
“That [proposing political amendments]can be done in any bill [on the floor]come the period of committee and individual amendments. Nobody can stop anybody from proposing amendments. The question is, would that amendment have the required support and be accepted [in the bill]?” Gonzales said during the Ugnayan sa Batasan News Forum.
“Kung wala kang suporta, tumbalelong ka diyan [Without support, you’ll flip over],” he added.
Gonzales was referring to the legislative mill wherein a bill is filed by a lawmaker, referred to the committee concerned and discussed and approved in the committee level before finally being subjected to plenary debates.
A proposed amendment will then be inserted in the bill if majority of the quorum votes for
it. Otherwise, the proposed amendment is rejected. A bill will need a simple majority vote for it to be approved on second and third reading.
But in the case of RBH 1, which amends the Constitution, at least three fourths of the 294-strong House members should vote for changing the Constitution for it to take effect.
“Our priority is the economic ChaCha because it is the measure which was already reported out on the [plenary]floor. This political Cha-cha is a new development and a bill on it is yet to be filed. But if a bill is indeed filed, then we let the process begin. Let’s see if it gains support. We can’t stop a member of Congress from exercising his or her right to file bills,” Gonzales said.
Rep. Edgar Erice of Caloocan City (Metro Manila), a member of the ruling Liberal Party like Gonzales, has been saying that he is set to file a bill that will allow the President to seek a second term but he is yet to lodge such a measure.
But while everybody is free to file a bill, Gonzales said, amending the Constitution, regardless if it is economic or political in nature, remains very difficult.
He cited the case of a move similar to RBH 1 that was also backed by Speaker Belmonte and himself in the 15th Congress but still fizzled out abruptly.
“Nothing happened on the economic Cha-cha during the 15th Congress even with us supporting it. The LP cannot do it alone because we only have 113 members here. You need three-fourths vote [to amend the Constitution],” Gonzales pointed out, referring to the ruling Liberal Party headed by President Aquino.
“The majority coalition is big. You would need the NPC, NP, NUP, party-list coalition on board for a consensus. Otherwise, it is not going to happen,” he said, referring to the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the Nacionalista Party and the National Union Party.
But House Deputy Minority Leader Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna party-list called on his colleagues to oppose any kind of Charter change.
“We must defeat the Liberal Party’s self-serving move because it would worsen the already sorry state of the country. The Aquino government should heed the voice of the people and junk Cha-cha,” Colmenares said in a separate statement.
“The government should provide more jobs, better social services and prevent the supposed crises that we are about to face like the power shortage and water shortage without adding another burden to the people,” he added.
Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis party-list also vowed to block Cha-cha.
“Pushing for Cha-cha will only hasten President Aquino’s political isolation and will lead to divisiveness. Cha-cha is a political disaster waiting to happen,” he said.