CHARTER change cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday after the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments approved a proposed resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly to speed up the process of amending the 1987 Constitution.
The panel voted to adopt the Constituent Assembly mode, in which the House and the Senate directly propose the amendments, rather than call for a Constitutional Convention that will require a nationwide election of delegates.
Thirty-two members of the House committee voted in favor of the resolution.
Seven lawmakers opposed the move, including Representatives Henedina Abad of Batanes, Arlene Bag-ao of
Dinagat Islands and Jose “Lito” Atienza of Buhay party-list, among others.
Three lawmakers abstained.
“This panel approves the concurrent resolution calling for the Congress of the Philippines to constitute itself into a Constituent Assembly for the purpose of proposing amendments to or revisions to the 1987 Constitution,” said Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House panel.
The House constitutional amendments panel also agreed that the 32 who voted in favor of a Constituent Assembly would be listed as co-authors of the House resolution.
A technical working group will be formed to consolidate the bills proposing a Constituent Assembly for the charter overhaul.
The House is also awaiting the issuance of an executive order from President Rodrigo Duterte forming a 25-man preparatory constitutional commission to aid Congress in amending the Constitution to shift to a federal form of government.
There are three modes of amending the Constitution: a Constituent Assembly, a Constitutional Convention and a people’s initiative or signature drive.
Duterte initially favored a convention but shifted to Constituent Assembly after being told that the former could cost at least P6 billion and that the process of amending the charter could drag on.
‘Bound to fail’?
Atienza, a deputy minority leader, warned that amending the charter through a Constituent Assembly was bound to fail because it would exclude the opinion of the public.
“This will not go well because this disregards the sentiments of our people. While recognizing that the Constitution should be changed, this should be done by electing constitutionalists, not by Congress,” Atienza said.
“Members of Congress are elected for other duties,” he added.
Voting on the House resolution was supposed to take place last October 12, but a near scuffle between Surigao del Norte Rep. Ace Barbers and Surigao del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay forced the committee to suspend its proceedings.
Pichay wanted the Senate to be consulted first before voting on the resolution, which Barbers said was a “stupid and senseless” motion.
The Duterte administration is in favor of Charter Change to pave the way for a shift in federalism, wherein the country will be divided into 11 federal states to break Metro Manila’s hold on political power and resources.
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now House deputy speaker, has proposed that the House of Representatives and the Senate convene as a Constituent Assembly by November to draft a new constitution within the term of President Duterte.
“We don’t really have much time to put together a new constitution to be put out in a plebiscite by 2019. The executive order [to study a shift to the]federal French parliamentary form of government is expected to be signed in October, so we should start by November,” Arroyo said last October 12.