Senate, House clash over charter change mode
MANILA, Philippines — Senators on Tuesday repudiated their counterparts in the House of Representatives as they insisted that there were more pressing issues that needed legislative action other than tinkering with the 1987 Constitution.
Even the main proponent of charter change in the Senate, Sen. Robinhood Padilla expressed doubt that the decision of the House committee on constitutional amendments to push for a “hybrid” constitutional convention (con-con) would get the support of his colleagues.
“I’m not objecting to what the House did. But the issue here is timing. Is this the right time to discuss all the things they want to [amend in the Charter]?” Padilla told reporters.
“Who will support me in the Senate to adopt what the House has approved? That may not go beyond the first reading in my committee,” said Padilla, who chairs the Senate constitutional amendments and revision of codes committee.
He said pursuing a constitutional convention would be too expensive, noting that the National Economic and Development Authority had earlier estimated that P28 billion would be needed to bankroll such a mode of charter change.
Padilla insisted that a constitutional assembly (Con-ass) was the appropriate way to amend the 36-year-old Constitution.
The Senate minority bloc also rejected the House’s action, with Sen. Risa Hontiveros arguing that the lawmakers should focus instead on solving the issues of poverty, inflation, and corruption.
“We should do away with this long-standing tale of make-believe that charter change will solve all our problems. We don’t need that now,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III, who previously led efforts to change the country’s presidential form of government to a parliamentary system, said this was not the right time to revise the Constitution. “Our people are too preoccupied with daily living struggles. Although we need constitutional changes to improve our system of government, this can wait as we should first address the basic daily living problems,” Pimentel said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara joined Padilla in questioning the proposed per diem of P10,000 for each delegate of a constitutional convention.
“I’m open to the discussions on cha-cha. But the proposed daily pay of P10,000 for the delegates is just too high,” Angara said.
Angara and Padilla both pointed out that a constitutional convention was not only expensive but would also take longer compared to a constituent assembly.
Sen. Nancy Binay said Congress should attend to the gut issues affecting poor Filipinos instead of pushing for charter change.
“[Besides], the president has already said that cha-cha is not the administration’s priority,” Binay said.
Con-ass vs Con-con
But the main proponent of charter change at the House maintained on Monday that the clauses in the Resolution of Both Houses calling for a constitutional convention should suffice in impressing on its delegates to focus on economic amendments.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, thumbed down proposals to shift the charter change mode to a constituent assembly.
Rodriguez acknowledged that a constituent assembly would be faster — completed in a matter of months — and cheaper than a constitutional convention and would ensure that charter change would be limited to economic provision amendments.
Northern Samar Rep. Paul Daza said that a constituent assembly would be composed of members of both the House and the Senate so that charter change would come at little or no cost at all, compared to a constitutional convention.
But Rodriguez said his committee had overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional convention.
He pointed out that a constituent assembly was not a trusted mode of making changes in the Constitution compared to a constitutional convention and people’s initiative, citing a report by the congressional policy and budget research department.