CONGRESS will start the process of amending the Constitution as a Constituent Assembly in January 2017 after budget deliberations, congressional leaders bared on Tuesday.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte and Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel 3rd made the announcement after a meeting of House and Senate leaders in Ortigas.
“Between now and November, we’ll prioritize deliberations for the national budget for 2017. After that … maybe in January [next year], we can talk about the revision of the Constitution,” Alvarez told reporters.
Pimentel said: “We’ll concentrate on the budget now but we can brush up on the Constitution and other urgent laws.”
While the budget takes precedence in the congressional agenda, Alvarez said his proposed executive order (EO) forming a 20-man Constitutional Commission was in the works.
The panel will draft a new Charter, which should be ready for the Constituent Assembly’s deliberations by January 2017.
“While we are busy on the budget, this body can work on the new Constitution. The EO has been drafted a week ago,” Alvarez said.
Lawmakers will also do their own research, Pimentel said.
“We’ll appreciate all the help we can get. They (commission) can do the Constitutional research for us for now, but since we will be a part [of the body that will revise the Constitution], we should also start reading up,” he said.
Charter change is a priority of the Duterte administration, to allow a shift in the form of government to a federal system from a unitary or centralized one.
In Cagayan de Oro City on Tuesday, President Rodrigo Duterte again said he was ready to retire in two to three years following the shift to federalism.
Pimentel, however, insisted that in the event Congress convenes as Constituent Assembly, voting on constitutional amendments must be done by the two houses separately.
Under the 1987 Constitution, a Constituent Assembly composed of members of the House and Senate can propose changes to the Constitution.
The Constitution states that a three-fourths vote is needed to approve amendments. But it is not clear if voting should be done jointly or separately.
“There are numerous instances when Congress voted separately. It was only once when it voted separately, on Martial law, based on the research of Majority Leader [Rodolfo] Fariñas [of Ilocos Norte],” Pimentel pointed out.
“In fact, when we listen to the President during SONA (State of the Nation Address), it is composed of separate sessions even if we are physically together,” he added.
Alvarez did not disclose the House contingent’s position on the matter but said there would be no impasse.
“I don’t think we’ll have problems [on the voting issue]. As long as the intentions are the same, there’s no problem,” he said.
“The voting is the least of our worries. What is more important is the content of the new Constitution,” Alvarez added.
Earlier, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said only a Supreme Court ruling would settle the matter.