THE House of Representatives and the Senate should convene as a Constituent Assembly by November to draft a new constitution within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now House deputy speaker, has proposed.
The former Chief Executive, who is the representative of the second district of Pampanga, made the call during the first hearing on charter change bills conducted by the House constitutional amendments committee on Wednesday.
“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 (EO) [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.
“We must agree in principle to constitute ourselves into a Constituent Assembly so we can move on the new Constitution,” she added.
The EO, a draft of which was earlier seen by The Manila Times, will form the Constitutional Reform Consultative and Study Council tasked to propose revisions to the 1987 Constitution “principally to change the existing unitary-presidential system of government to a federal and semi-presidential system of government; as well as to review and refocus economic policies in the Constitution.”
The council will also go over studies and proposals on constitutional reforms and hold nationwide information campaigns and consultations.
Rep. LRay Villafuerte of Camarines Sur agreed with Arroyo, saying the shift to a federal form of government, which will divide the country into 11 self-governing regions, should be pursued while President Duterte remains popular.
“The time to push for federalism is now—the absolute height of Duterte’s popularity. The creation of a federal government would decongest Metro Manila and allow [local governments]to decide for themselves and craft their own development agendas,” Villafuerte, a former Camarines Sur governor, said.
Duterte and a number of his House allies, including Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte, are in favor
of a Constituent Assembly, instead of a Constitutional Convention, to save time and cut costs.
At least two administration lawmakers, Deputy Speakers Gwen Garcia of Cebu and Raneo Abu of Batangas, have withdrawn their proposed charter change proposals in favor of a Constituent Assembly.
“In the spirit of cooperation and unity, with the direction of our present administration and the leadership of the House, I am withdrawing my bill in favor of the holding of a [Constituent Assembly] to change our Constitution,” Garcia said during the hearing.
There are at least 30 proposals to change the Constitution in the House.
Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque, however, called for a plebiscite to ask voters whether or not they want charter change, and how, coinciding with next year’s barangay (village) elections.
“We should consult the people first if they are in favor of this. We can hold the referendum on it simultaneous with barangay polls in October 2017 at no extra cost,” Roque said.
“If there is really solid public support for this, then they (charter change proponents) should not be afraid of this referendum,” Roque said.