By Maricel V. Cruz and Macon Ramos-Araneta
SPEAKER Pantaleon Alvarez on Friday assured the public that the proposed changes to the Constitution through a Constituent Assembly would advance the interests of the Filipino people.
In an interview on the ANC news channel, Alvarez said he was amenable to barring those appointed to a Constitutional Commission from benefitting from the changes they proposed.
“I agree with you totally,” when the TV host Teodoro Locsin suggested such restrictions.
Alvarez had earlier proposed organizing a Constitutional Commission of legal experts, academics and sectoral representatives to draft amendments to the Constitution that Congress, organized as a Constituent Assembly, could discuss.
This “council of wise men” of 20 to 25 experts would provide Congress with “competent guidance” in the drafting of the new Charter, Alvarez said.
On Thursday, President Rodrigo Duterte assured the public that he would ensure the integrity of the Charter Change exercise, and warned lawmakers not to mess with the Constitution or he would shut down Congress and have its members arrested.
At the moment, Alvarez said, the Senate has yet to agree on Charter Change through a constituent assembly.
“If they can’t be with us and with the President in calling for a Constituent Assembly, then we will be wasting our time,” Alvarez said. “I hope we will be together in finding ways how to do it rather than finding ways how not to do it.”
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III on Friday said he listen to all the arguments about Charter change.
“Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend,” said Pimentel, quoting the late Chinese leader Mao Zedung.
Pimentel said he respects the views of every senator on the issue of Charter Change and federalism.
“I have my own views on this, but the last thing I want to do is impose my own views on others,” he said.
“My job as Senate President is to allow every view to be heard, so that we–and the people themselves–can weigh all the arguments and make an informed choice when the time comes for them to vote for the ratification of a new Constitution,” he added.
Alvarez said he supported President Duterte’s call for retaining the position of President in a federal, parliamentary setup to ensure that the people still have a say in the election of the country’s top leader.
“The President wants the Filipino people to directly elect their own leaders. You cannot take that away from them. And with a federal parliamentary setup you have a prime minister who may be removed by a vote of no-confidence but still you have a president holding the country together,” Alvarez said.
He also said that in delineating new political subdivisions of the country to create several states under the federal system, framers of the Charter must ensure each state has enough economic or natural resources to sustain itself.
“I think when we divide the country into several states, we must agree on a formula. A formula that [will allow us to be] sure that a particular state can survive economically,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said a federal system of government is largely aimed at doing away with excessive control of the central government and to empower each state to manage its own economy and create opportunities for its people.
House Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said Congress was committed to serve and protect the people’s interest in Charter Change.
“No one will fool around in Congress regarding Charter change as the three-fourth vote required to make a proposed amendment or revision is hard to achieve,” Fariñas said.
He pointed out that people will reject in a plebiscite any amendment that will serve and protect personal interests of congressmen and not the Filipino people.
“More so, if the output of Congress is foolish, the people will naturally reject it in the plebiscite,” he said.
But Fariñas said he favored lifting of term limits, noting that political dynasties are an offshoot of limited time of elected public officials to serve.
“The term limits in the Constitution are problematic. There are term limits, but the Constitution prohibits political dynasty. But the root of political dynasty is the term limits. When you are not eligible for reelection anymore, people will clamor for someone related to you for the continuity of service, so you will field your wife, or son or daughter,” Fariñas said.
“That’s the reality. I have been here in politics since the 1980s. When your term is up, people will ask you, Sir, please have your wife run for office so there’s continuity. They are your patrons.
But Kabayan party-list Rep. Harry Roque said the lifting of term limits was a major objective of the Charter Change initiative, and said choosing a Constituent Assembly to achieve this rather than an elected Constitutional Convention was seen as an effort to railroad the process.
So far, the two chambers of Congress have called for a Constitutional Convention to review the Constitution. Under Resolution of Both Houses No. 1, delegates to the convention will be elected by January next year, to propose amendments to the Constitution.
The resolution disqualifies members of the Congress at the time of the adoption of the resolution to become a candidate for election as delegate to the convention.
It also prohibits candidates in the May 2016 elections to qualify as a candidate for election as delegate to the Convention.
“The proposed review of the 29-year old Constitution will be the ‘top priority’ of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and laws which I chair,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon.
“We will take up all the proposed measures and resolutions calling for the review of the Constitution as soon as the organization of the Senate is finalized and completed,” Drilon said.
Drilon said he considers the revision of the Constitution “a delicate task” that needs the active involvement of all stakeholders.
“We will hear from all stakeholders and experts to discuss the best mode of amending our Constitution. The committee will do its best to come up with the most appropriate and beneficial strategy,” Drilon added.