MANILA, Philippines – The Senate will start tackling Charter change next week, including President Duterte’s intent to change the form of government from presidential to federal.
Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments and revisions of codes, said the panel has set its first hearing on bills and resolutions on the issue on Dec. 8.         
For the past few weeks, the chamber has been busy deliberating on the proposed P3.35-trillion national budget and with inquiries on other controversial issues.
“This committee understands the importance of this undertaking in the agenda of the current administration, so we will ensure that it is given the utmost priority,” Drilon said. “We will hear all views and opinions of the various sectors on these issues.” 
Drilon said the panel has invited resource persons from various sectors, including the business community, labor, academe, civil society, sectoral and religious groups, as well as respected constitutional and legal experts and former Supreme Court justices.
Among them are former chief justices Hilario Davide Jr., Reynato Puno and Artemio Panganiban; former Supreme Court associate justices Adolfo Azcuna, Antonio Nachura and Vicente Mendoza; recognized constitutional experts Fr. Joaquin Bernas and lawyer Christian Monsod, and former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr.
The panel will also invite some members of the Cabinet, including Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Makati Business Club chairman Ramon del Rosario Jr.
Drilon vowed anew to make the process of amending and revising the Constitution “thorough, consultative and transparent.”
He said the initial hearing would focus on key issues, like whether or not there is a need to amend the Constitution and which parts need amendments.  
Drilon added the panel would also tackle whether the amendments should be proposed by a constitutional convention or with Congress acting as a constituent assembly.
The question whether the Senate and the House of Representatives should vote jointly or separately will also be discussed.
“All these must be and will be thoroughly considered, guided by the principle that the vehicle we choose must be democratic, participatory and inclusive,” Drilon said.
Drilon is the author of Resolution of Both Houses No. 1, which calls for a con-con to review the 1987 Constitution.
Other senators have also filed bills seeking to amend the Constitution.

Phl can afford con-con

Meanwhile, Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza said yesterday the Philippines could afford to spend P8 billion to elect a constitutional convention that would change the Constitution.
“If we can spend P26 billion to elect a president that we will replace in six years, and to choose members of Congress as well as local officials that we will replace in three, surely we can spend P8 billion to pick delegates to a constitutional convention that will draft us a new Charter that is bound to outlast a generation,” Atienza said.
“We should not hesitate to spend for the preparation of a new Constitution that could free up the national economy from the clutches of oligarchs, build genuine peace and order, provide full employment and guarantee every Filipino family a rising standard of living,” he added.
Atienza said the huge expense for a convention is “an investment in the future of our children and in the future of our children’s children.”
“This is the first time in nearly 30 years that we will be rewriting the 1987 Constitution. We might as well invest wisely in perfecting a truly responsive and highly relevant new Charter through a con-con,” Atienza stressed.
The House committee on constitutional amendments has recommended the convening of the two chambers of Congress as a constituent assembly (con-ass) to propose amendments to the Constitution.
The committee made the recommendation after President Duterte, who was initially for electing a con-con, changed his mind and supported the proposal of his congressional allies led by Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez for a con-ass.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has told the President that the election alone of a convention could cost at least P7 billion.
Billions more would be spent for the con-con’s operational expenses.
Congressmen advocating the election of a convention have shifted to con-ass since Duterte favored the less expensive mode of Charter change.
Among them is Surigao del Sur’s Prospero Pichay Jr.
Pichay said he has realized that if a con-con is elected, the candidates would mostly be protégés of politicians.
“We will field our own people. And when they meet as a convention, they will most likely consult with us. So we might as well do it ourselves. It will be less expensive and faster,” he said.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez also used to advocate the con-con mode, but he too has changed his mind.
Atienza and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte are among con-con advocates who have not flip-flopped.
Atienza said the nation would be spending P6 billion next year to elect its new set of barangay officials.
“Are the proponents of con-ass telling us that electing barangay officials that we will replace in three years is more important than voting for a constitutional convention? We can spend P6 billion for the barangay polls, but we cannot spend P8 billion for a convention?” he asked.       
Alvarez has said the House would start tackling Cha-cha in January.  With Jess Diaz


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