Charter change talks being revived in Congress CNN_Ph

Charter change talks being revived in Congress Featured

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 6) — Lawmakers have disclosed efforts to tackle constitutional amendments in both houses of Congress with a hearing scheduled by a panel in the House of Representatives, and a resolution filed in Senate.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, AKO BICOL Party-list Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr., head of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, posted photos of some lawmakers meeting with the caption “gearing up for constitutional amendments.”

When asked about this, Garbin said it is House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco’s directive “to tackle proposed amendments to restrictive economic provisions.” He said a hearing will be held on January 13.

In July 2019, Velasco filed a resolution proposing amendments to economic provisions, particularly easing limits on the foreign ownership of land, natural resources, public utilities, mass media, and schools.

Meanwhile, Senators Francis Tolentino and Ronald dela Rosa filed on December 20 a resolution seeking to convene Congress as a constituent assembly to introduce amendments to the Constitution. Talks will be “limited to the provisions on democratic representation and the economic provisions of the Constitution,” the resolution states.

It’s too early to tell if these efforts would prosper, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said, noting that a majority vote is needed to convene while a ¾ vote is needed to approve constitutional amendments.

In a constituent assembly, members of the House of Representatives and the Senate shall convene and decide on constitutional amendments themselves. This is different from a constitutional convention which requires nationwide elections to select delegates who will draft the amendments.

During the 17th Congress, the House of Representatives also approved a resolution seeking a constituent assembly, but the Senate failed to decide on pertinent issues: Whether there is a need to amend the Constitution, and if so, whether it will be done by a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly.

In May 2020, Cagayan De Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, then the chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said the panel was suspending any deliberations on charter change as the country grapples with the coronavirus crisis. The House is now under new leadership following the controversial squabble between Velasco and former Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano.

In December 2019, the panel swiftly approved a resolution seeking to amend the Constitution – but an anti-political dynasty provision and other political and electoral reforms were left out. The committee then recalled the approval in order to consider the proposed amendments being offered by the executive, which included controversial restrictions on political dynasties. The panel last held a hearing in February 2020.

A proposed Constitution that would allow for a shift to a federal form of government has been pushed under the present administration. President Rodrigo Duterte admitted in 2019 that passing federalism — one of his main campaign promises in the 2016 elections — would unlikely push through, due to lack of support from Filipinos. A year later, Malacañang said pursuing reforms to the Constitution is not a priority of the government amid the rising cases of the coronavirus disease, but it has also clarified it will not intervene in the affairs of Congress.

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