CONFLICT is brewing over how to overhaul the 1987 Constitution as President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed he would pursue Charter change through a Constituent Assembly instead of a costly Constitutional Convention, even threatening to abolish the party-list system.
Differing views emerged among lawmakers, and political analysts urged Duterte to take the public pulse first before making a final push for Con-Ass.
On Friday, Duterte said he would push for Con-Ass to save money.
“I don’t want Con-Con. Why? It’s expensive. It will cost billions,” Duterte said in Davao del Norte, where he visited the wake of a militiaman slain by communist rebels.
Duterte vowed to personally ensure that the constitutional amendments won’t be “anti-Filipino.”
“Count on that. That is the job of the President,” he said.
On Thursday, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, a key Duterte ally told businessmen in Makati the President’s preference was for a Con-Ass, and this was reached following the National Security Council meeting on Wednesday.
Alvarez pointed out that a Con-Con would cost up to P7 billion.
The shift to a federal form of government through a Con-Con was a campaign promise of Duterte.
A political analyst warned that Duterte’s sudden change of position could give birth to an anti-Charter change movement.
Ramon Casiple said attempts in the past to change the Constitution did not push through because lawmakers wanted it done through Con-Ass.
“The reason why people find Charter change acceptable is because of Con-Con. If it’s not Con-Con then we can expect an anti-Charter change movement developing,” Casiple said in a phone interview.
Ed Tayao, political science professor at the University of Santo Tomas, said Duterte’s preference for Con-Ass was logical because of the costs involved in calling for a Con-Con.
“The question is how this will be acceptable to the public, considering that the two chambers, especially the House of Representatives, may not enjoy the same popularity as the President,” Tayao said.
He warned that “popularity can vanish instantly without anyone anticipating, and unpopular decisions are usual triggers to slash popularity overnight.”
Lawmakers weighed in on Friday, with Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd saying: “We should just appoint a council of elders to oversee the con-ass like Fr. Joaquin Bernas and others.”
Senator Panfilo Lacson said that there were matters that should be resolved first, such as whether the House and Senate would vote jointly or separately in a Con-Ass.
The House of Representatives has more than 290 members while Senate only has 24, and voting jointly would make the votes of the senators insignificant.
“Then, there’s still the issue of public acceptability that we will have to grapple with as members of Congress become natural suspects in advancing their own agenda,” Lacson said.
Senator Richard Gordon backed Duterte, saying Con-Ass would be the least expensive approach.
In the House, opposition lawmakers said Con-Ass would suppress the people’s will.
“Leaving the task of amending the Constitution to Congress alone will naturally mean that the lawmakers will not pass any law that will be detrimental to their interest,” Ifugao Rep. Teodoro Baguilat said in a statement.
A Constitutional Assembly under a “Super Majority” in both chambers of Congress “is like having zombies to rewrite our Constitution,” Akbayan party-list Rep. Tom Villarin said in a separate statement.