PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has changed his mind and now wants Charter change done quickly by Congress through a Constituent Assembly instead of a costly Constitutional Convention, his top congressional ally bared on Thursday.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte said this was the consensus reached by the National Security Council (NSC) Wednesday night during a meeting in Malacañang, which tackled Duterte’s proposal to shift to a federal form of government, among other important issues.
“At first, the President wanted a Con-Con but on second thought, because it involves a huge sum of money, it was agreed upon that Congress would form a Constituent Assembly to revise the current Constitution after last night’s NSC meeting. It will be cheaper and faster,” Alvarez told members of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) in Makati.
Under Article XVII, Section 1 of the 1987 Constitution, amendments to the Charter may be proposed by Congress “upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.”
Alvarez’s timetable calls for a draft of the new Constitution in one year, after which there will be a public information drive.
“By 2019 polls, we will have it ratified by the people. In 2022, we will elect leaders based on new Constitution. Can we do it? The Duterte administration is committed to do it,” Alvarez said.
Malacañang however indicated on Thursday the new plan to push for Con-Ass was not yet final.
“It was discussed as a possibility considering the prohibitive costs should they (Congress) begin the process soon,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said.
Abella noted that other huge expenditure items were “looming,” particularly the barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (youth council) elections in October as well as proposed salary increases for the Philippine National Police.
Stiff price tag
A nationwide election of Con-Con delegates will cost the government P6 billion to P7 billion, the Speaker said.
The Con-Con price tag was confirmed by Commission on Elections Chairman Andres Bautista, who added that costs will go higher if the nationwide plebiscite that will ratify the new constitution is included.
“That P6 billion to P7 billion is for the election of delegates alone. That does not include its operations which include fees for their venues, as well as the plebiscite proper,” Bautista said in a separate talk before MAP members.
Alvarez pointed out that Con-Ass will be cheaper because constitutional amendments will be done by incumbent lawmakers – 24 senators and 292 House members.
Duterte had wanted to call a Con-Con to make the process more representative.
Proposed resolutions in Congress seek to bar relatives of lawmakers from running in the
election for delegates, to prevent politicians from dictating the outcome.
But a Con-Con faces budget constraints, Alvarez said.
“And how can you be so sure that the relatives of lawmakers won’t be elected as Con-Con delegate?” Alvarez argued when quizzed about how representative a Con-Ass would be.
“I understand that there are fears on Con-Ass. But let me tell you. You have nothing to fear. We are committed to doing this for the people,” he added.
The Speaker was referring to the longstanding aversion to the Con-Ass as a means of amending the Charter, as it could allow sitting lawmakers to propose self-serving amendments such as lifting term limits.
Under a federal system envisioned by Alvarez, the Senate will in effect be abolished – the country will have a unicameral parliament and at least 11 independent states (regions) under one federal (central) government.
Poorer regions will be grouped with wealthier ones to ensure that all states have enough resources.
Caraga region will be merged with the Davao region, for example. Mindanao will have three independent states: Eastern Mindanao, Western Mindanao and the Bangsamoro.
Visayas will have two independent states: Eastern and Western Visayas. The eastern Samar and Leyte provinces will be grouped with Cebu, Bohol and Negros provinces. Panay island, Palawan, Mindoro, Marinduque and Romblon in the west will all be under one state.
Luzon will have the State of Bicol, the National Capital Region, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Northern Luzon and the Cordillera Administrative Region.
The President will remain head of state, and the federal government will retain exclusive jurisdiction over foreign affairs, national defense, the police and monetary policy.
“Opportunities now are confined in Manila. Under a federal government, states can draft their own economic policies, such as implement an open trade system like Hong Kong and Macau, impose their own tax laws … manage their own resources,” Alvarez explained.
“This will create opportunities. If there are more opportunities within regions, I don’t see why poverty won’t be addressed,” he said.
Under a unitary government, provinces have to beg for their share of resources from Manila, he claimed.
“This system has stunted development,” Alvarez said.
But for Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, Alvarez’s timeline is not feasible and there is no support for Charter change.
“I do not think there’s enough support in the Senate for the amendment for federalism,” Roque, an opposition lawmaker, said in a text message.
“Even if the Senate goes along, I think people will reject the amendment since there is no popular clamor for it,” Roque added.