House senior deputy minority leader Lito Atienza on Sunday urged congress to “waste no time” in getting the ball rolling for a constitutional convention (con-con), saying lawmakers have prepared for this means of amending the charter.
In a statement, Atienza, who represents Buhay party-list at the House of Representatives, said congress should “forget about simply mustering itself into a constituent assembly to propose changes to the charter.” He added that delegates for the con-con should be elected alongside the 2019 mid-term elections.
Atienza pointed out that President Rodrigo Duterte strongly advocated a constitutional convention during the campaign period in 2016 and immediately after he was elected into office.
“In fact, congressional records will show that owing to the President’s early pronouncements favoring a constitutional convention, many of us in the House and in the Senate scrambled in July 2016 to file bills and resolutions calling for a constitutional convention,” the lawmaker said.
While the establishment of a con-con requires extra budget, it should not be a hindrance, Atienza added.
“We should not hesitate to invest in the preparation of a new Constitution that could free up the national economy from the clutches of oligarchs, build genuine peace and order, provide full employment and guarantee every Filipino family a rising standard of living,” he said.
“The budget for a constitutional convention is a sensible investment in the future of our children and grandchildren. In no way should we consider it an improvident expense. This is the first time in more than 30 years that we will be rewriting the Constitution. We might as well invest wisely in perfecting a truly responsive and highly relevant new charter through a constitutional convention,” Atienza said.
Previous attempts oto change the constitution through constituent assembly were rejected because of fears that lawmakers might introduce self-serving amendments, including the removal of restrictions to the number of terms they and their family members may serve in elected offices.
“If we again insist on a constituent assembly, we clearly risk repeating the blunders of the past, and we might lose this great opportunity for our nation to embrace a whole new Constitution,” Atienza warned.
In a constitutional convention, the people will elect representatives who will recommend revisions to the Constitution.
In a constituent assembly, however, members of congress conven to put forward amendments to the Constitution.
In both cases, the proposed changes will require the approval of the people in a referendum.
Atienza’s move was in direct contrast to the proposal of Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who is set to file a resolution urging the Senate to convene itself into a constituent assembly.
However, a political analyst said Lacson’s proposal could help ensure an orderly process in amending the constitution, it may be ambiguous in so far as the wordings of the constitution is concerned.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, explained that the term used in the 1987 constitution was Congress, which refers to the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“But it can also be interpreted, although for sure it would be questioned in the Supreme Court, that Congress may convene separately,” Casiple said in an interview.
Once there is a working draft acceptable to both houses of congress, Casiple said congress could then convene into a Constituent Assembly and vote either jointly or separately.
“This is one of the possible approaches in amending the constitution but like I’ve said there are many variations congress could choose to avoid constitutional question,” the political analyst said.
Lacson is set to file his resolution seeking to convene the Senate as a Constituent Assembly on its own, instead of being a joint body with the House of Representatives.
The move was intended to give the Senate and the House “equal footing” in and ensure that upper chamber would not be rendered irrelevant.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd viewed Lacson’s proposal as a good strategy in making sure that the process would be less complicated.
He said the Senate and the lower house could just exchange notes and outputs and if there were differences, members of the bicameral conference committee can tackle these issues.
Sotto said those who have been insisting that Congress should vote jointly in a Constituent Assembly should abandon the idea because it was not the intention of the framers of the 1987 constitution.
“There is no point debating on the issue but there are those who want to insist on it and they should bring (it) to the Supreme Court,” the majority leader said in a radio interview.
There has been no clear interpretation as to the manner on how congress would vote in the event it convenes into a Constituent Assembly.
In fact, Casiple said, even in the actual minutes of the 1986 Constitutional Convention, there was no clear interpretation from the members of the body if the Senate and the House of Representatives would be voting separately.
“It was also not explicitly stated that Congress would vote jointly, and it is possible that this issue would be questioned in the Supreme Court,” he added.
“The question is not entirely on how Congress would vote. There is also the question of if it reflects public opinion and remember it would be submitted for referendum,” Casiple said.
The Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes will begin discussions on the proposed amendment or revision of the 1987 Constitution on January 17.
Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, chairman of the panel, said three bills filed by Senators Franklin Drilon, Juan Miguel Zubiri and Richard Gordon will be tackled.
Pangilinan said the committee had invited members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, former members of the judiciary, members of the academe, business and labor sectors, civil society, and other concerned stakeholders.
RALPH U. VILLANUEVA AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA