No numbers to push charter change in Senate – Zubiri
MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Saturday poured cold water on a move to amend or revise the Constitution, saying it did not have enough senators to back it up, especially since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. himself wasn’t supporting charter change.
“The truth is, we don’t really have the numbers even though I want to push that,” he said in a radio interview. “It will still require three-fourths, or at least 18 votes. Almost half of the senators I talked to are against charter change.”
Zubiri made the statement as the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, chaired by Sen. Robin Padilla, embarked on a nationwide “consultation caravan” by conducting hearings in the cities of Davao, Baguio, and Cebu.
He doubted that the effort would eventually lead to the passage of a law to establish either a constituent assembly or a constitutional convention to change the 36-year-old Constitution.
“Without the support of the president, it will be very difficult to push this because as you know, it will need budgeting support from the executive branch, through the (Department of Budget and Management),” he said in the “Usapang Senado” radio program on dwIZ.
While he expressed his personal support for the bid to make revisions to the country’s Constitution, Zubiri was concerned that prolonging the debates on charter change will only let Congress “lose its focus,” a reference to urgent legislative matters.
“Why do we still have to argue against one another? Why are we still dividing the Senate on the matter of charter change when there are many more (Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council) measures that we are debating on?” he said.
Zubiri repeated his earlier statement that charter change was “not a Senate priority at this point in time.”
“What we want to help are the people we have not reached through meaningful legislation because if we spend all our time on Charter change debates, but at the end of the day there is no vote … we are wasting a lot of time and effort; we are wasting a lot of energy and funding discussing a measure that we don’t have a vote on,” he said.
The Padilla-led hearings are intended to whip up support for his proposed Resolution of Both Houses No. 3 to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution.
Marcos: Not a priority
In the latest statement he has made on the proposed charter change, the president told reporters on his flight back from his official visit to Japan on Feb. 13 that the Philippines could get foreign investments even without amending the Constitution.
“It’s not a priority for me because there are many things that need to be done … there are so many other things that we need to do first,” Marcos said.
Zubiri on Thursday said he was aware of rumors that he could be ousted for his charter change stance.
“They are using what they say is the slow output of the Senate for a unicameral parliament. There are such talks,” he told reporters.
But Zubiri said that it was a “time-bound and honored tradition” that the senators take their time in passing any measure.
He said that such black propaganda was “part of the game” and that he would just focus on performing his duties.
Zubiri said that he was willing to step down any time that at least 13 of his colleagues would signify that they wanted him to vacate his post.
“That is the prerogative of our peers. We serve at the pleasure of our peers. My take there is that we are doing our best and we have been passing a lot of legislation,” he said.
Zubiri also played down assurances by House lawmakers that charter change would only involve amending what they described as “restrictive” economic provisions of the Constitution.
“Based on my many years of experience as a legislator, my position here is that we cannot control what our con-con [constitutional convention] delegates will talk about once it is formed. If they want to go over the Constitution from Article 1 to the last article, they can do that, including the political provisions,” he said.
Any change in the Constitution also poses the risk that the framers of a new Constitution would also make changes in the country’s political structure, including abolishing the Senate to form a unicameral form of government.
“This will make things really chaotic, and the people will be mad at their legislators,” Zubiri said. “So, I’d say let us just use what we have now, which is an effective 1987 Constitution,” he said, adding that Congress had passed revisions of economic laws to overcome constitutional restrictions on investments and foreign participation in selected industries.
On Tuesday, an overwhelming majority of the House of Representatives approved House Bill No. 7352 calling for a “hybrid” constitutional convention composed of both elected delegates and those appointed by the president.
The main charter change proponent in the House, Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, said that the chamber’s proposed Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 would have no effect until approved by the Senate and that HB 7352 still had no resolution to implement it.
Iloilo Rep. Lorenz Defensor, vice chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, admitted that Congress would not have any control over the agenda of a constitutional convention.
He said that voters would have the responsibility to elect the “right delegates” who would only tweak the economic provisions and not tinker with the political provisions of the Constitution, such as term limits and the form of government.
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