PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has warned lawmakers against using Charter change for their selfish motives, or Congress will be shut down.
Duterte made the statement in a Malacañang speech Wednesday night amid growing opposition to his plan to revise the 1987 Constitution through Congress as a Constituent Assembly, instead of an elected Constitutional Convention.
“You choose. You do it properly. Don’t fool the people. If you insist on it, I will close you down,” Duterte said during a gathering of members of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.
At the House of Representatives, however, Majority Floor Leader Rodolfo Fariñas of Ilocos Norte said he was in favor of lifting of term limits, a constitutional safeguard against monopoly of power.
Fariñas justified his position by saying term limits had led to political dynasties.
“The term limits in the Constitution are problematic. There are term limits, but the Constitution prohibits political dynasty. But the root of political dynasty is the term limits.
When you are not eligible for reelection anymore, people will clamor for someone related to you for the continuity of service, so you will field your wife, or son or daughter,” Fariñas told reporters.
“That’s the reality. I have been here in politics since the 1980s,” he added.
Fariñas clarified that Duterte was not in favor of lifting term limits, noting that the President even offered to step down early if a new Constitution is adopted by 2019 and presidential elections are called.
Duterte initially preferred to amend the 1987 Constitution through a Constitutional Convention, wherein elected delegates propose changes to the Charter.
The President, however, had a change of heart and now favors the convening of a Constituent Assembly, wherein lawmakers deliberate on Charter amendments.
Duterte said a Constitutional Convention would be too expensive, possibly costing the government P10 billion, “but if they tarry, P30 billion to P50 billion.”
Constitutional amendments are needed to carry out the Duterte administration’s plan to shift to a federal form of government from a unitary or centralized one.
Federalism will devolve more powers to local governments and Duterte believes this will put an end to the violence and underdevelopment plaguing Mindanao.
Duterte assured the public that he will not allow lawmakers to take advantage of the Charter change process, saying that anything agreed upon by Congress will still be submitted to a plebiscite.
“I will never ever allow it. I’ll really say, ‘Don’t do it because if you force it, I’ll close Congress. I’ll arrest all of you.’ Choose. It’s true,” the President said.
‘Stop legislative mill’
Fariñas stressed that convening Congress as a Constituent Assembly would be the best way to amend the Constitution even if this meant stopping legislative work.
“Then we should stop the legislative mill. Why? We are revising the Constitution. This is the fundamental law of the land. Might as well stop legislation,” Fariñas pointed out.
He said there was no use tackling proposed bills on divorce and the death penalty if the new Constitution would prohibit the passage of these measures.
Fariñas also brushed aside a recent survey showing 44 percent of respondents as opposed to Charter change, as well as fears that lawmakers would propose self-serving amendments.
He noted that the changes to the Constitution would need the vote of at least three-fourths of House members, or 219, which is way larger than the simple majority needed to pass a law.
“There will be a lot of debates before it is presented to the people. We will consult. We will listen to the people. And what we will do is not final. We will not do anything that will not be voted upon by our people,” Fariñas added.
A ticklish issue that needs to be settled is whether the House and the Senate will vote jointly or separately in a Constituent Assembly, which is not specified in the 1987 Constitution.
The majority blocs of the House and the Senate will convene in a caucus on Tuesday to discuss the matter.