Arroyo rallies solons to support Con-ass
Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Wednesday rallied the members of the House of Representatives to support the constituent assembly (Con-ass) as the mode for amending the 1987 Constitution to pave the way for a shift to a federal form of government.
The former president made a rare appearance in the House constitutional amendments committee that was hearing the bills for either a Con-ass or constitutional convention (Con-con) mode of amending the Charter.
There are 29 bills pending in the committee for the amendment of the constitution through Con-con and Con-ass.
The House is tackling measures for Charter change following the call of President Rodrigo Duterte for Congress to convene in a Con-ass to propose amendments to the Charter, particularly changing the form of government from unitary to federal parliamentary.
Arroyo said Congress convening in an assembly would be more cost-efficient than holding an election for the delegates who would compose the Con-con.
She added that there would not be enough time to ratify the revised Charter in a plebiscite by 2019 if there would still be an election for the convention delegates.
“We file two resolutions, one is Con-con, and one is Con-ass, because at first the idea was to have a convention, but when it was decided it would be more cost-efficient to have assembly, so we filed measures for Con-ass. We don’t really have that much time to put together a constitutional plebiscite by 2019,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo said there is a need for the committee to decide on Con-ass so that a technical working group can be formed to consolidate the bills.
Arroyo also said she hoped President Rodrigo Duterte can create an executive order forming the constitutional commission, composed of constitutional experts to aid Congress to come up with the revised Charter.
Arroyo said according to Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the executive order would be signed this month, and thus Congress has to buckle down to work and convene in an assembly in November.
Arroyo mentioned that the federal model the Philippines should emulate is the French parliamentary form of government.
“We hope that soon the executive order will come out that will put together to help us a draft of the proposed federal French parliamentary form of government,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo urged her colleagues to discuss more during the assembly itself to save time.
“I understand from statements I read from Speaker Alvarez, the EO is expected to be signed in October, and that we can constitute ourselves into an assembly in November,” Arroyo said.
“We have a lot of work to do. So I hope we have less discussion on the solution, and more discussion during the assembly itself,” she added.
At least three representatives withdrew their bills calling for an alternative Con-con mode of Charter change—Batangas Rep. and Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu, Cebu Rep. and Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia and Samar Rep Edgar Sarmiento.
Some congressmen’s opposition intensified after Garcia moved for the committee to approve her motion to recommend to the plenary a Con-ass mode of Charter change.
Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said there is a need to hold more public hearings to determine the pulse of the people on Charter change.
Atienza said legislators won their district seats not on the campaign promise of amending the Charter.
“It’s premature to have a Con-ass. To decide on that and the fate of the Philippines is premature. Let’s give a little more time, so we’re not accused of railroading this idea in the present Congress. Let’s consider public opinion on this matter,” Atienza said.
Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque said a people’s initiative is a cheaper and more effective way of amending the Charter, warning of the risk of resorting to Con-ass with the legal question of whether or not Congress should vote jointly or separately.
The Constitution is silent on whether or not Congress convening in an assembly would vote jointly or separately on the constitutional amendments.
“We can’t simply vote whether it’s Con-ass or Con-con without being clear if Congress should vote jointly or separately. The reason obviously is unless this issue is resolved, taxpayers’ money will be wasted if we continue discussing the mode of amendment without certainty if the mode should be done jointly or separately by Congress,” Roque said.
Surigao Del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. said the Senate should also be invited in the debate, citing that the 1987 Constitution specifically states it is Congress, not just the House, which could amend the Charter.
Pichay also said there is no word “constitutional assembly” in the 1987 Constitution.
This sparked a word war between Pichay and Surigao Del Norte Rep. Robert “Ace” Barbers that escalated into a near fistfight.
“The Constitution says Congress, not the House of Representatives. The resolution should be amended to invite the upper chamber to join us as far as the direct amendment is concerned,” Pichay said.
“The Constitution says Congress upon a vote of three fourths of all its members. Saan nakalagay ang Con-ass (Where was Con-ass indicated)?” Pichay said.
Barbers shot back incredulously at the view of Pichay.
“Let us not be entertaining senseless motions, those are stupid motions. Let’s not pretend to be constitutionalists here,” Barbers said, before heading to the seat of Pichay around the table and cursing him.
The fight was broken up by Pangasinan Rep. Marlyn Primicias-Agabas between the two congressmen who are pointing fingers at each other.
Barbers has apologized for his actions, but Pichay said he planned to file a complaint before the House ethics committee.
Under Article 17 of the Constitution, there are three modes of amending the Charter.
Under Section 1, one mode of Charter change is through a Con-ass where Congress upon a vote of three votes of its members may propose amendments.
Meanwhile, Section 3 of the same Article provides that “The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a Con-con, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.”
Lastly, under the People’s Initiatives, as stated under Section 2, proposal for constitutional amendments may be instituted by the people “through initiative upon a petition of at least twelve per centum of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three per centum of the registered votes therein.” RAM
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