DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/28 July) — There will be no Constitutional Convention (ConCon) but Congress will just convene as a Constituent Assembly (ConAss) to revise the 1987 Constitution to allow for the shift from the highly centralized Presidential system to a federal form of government, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez Jr., announced at the Management Association of the Philippines’ (MAP) Forum on Federalism on Thursday noon.
Alvarez said that after the National Security Council meeting on Wednesday, he, President Duterte, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel and Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno met and agreed that Congress “will simply form into a constituent assembly to revise the present Constitution. It will be cheaper and faster.”
Alvarez’ announcement was aired live over ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel).
He told MindaNews in a text message that the cost of calling for a ConCon would be from “6 to 7 billion per Comelec estimate.”
Alvarez told the forum that the timetable would be “one year to come up with the revised draft of the Constitution,” after which an information drive would be launched “to inform the people what is in that proposed charter” and by the mid-term elections in May 2019, “we will submit it to the people for ratification.”
The years 2019 until 2022 will be the transition period, Alvarez said, adding that the officials in 2022 will be elected on the basis of the new Constitution.
“Can we do it?” Alvarez asked, and answered his own question. The Duterte administration is determined to do this. But we cannot do it alone. We need your help. Let us do this together for the country.”
Alvarez also assured business leaders: “Wag kayong mag-alala” (Do not worry).
“Under the leadership of President Duterte, yung mga fears ninyo sa Constituent Assembly, wala po yun. We committed to do it for the country,” he said.
Former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, Antonio La Vina, who teaches Constitutional Law at the Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro said this latest move is “very risky.”
“A 3/4 vote in the Senate is not an assured thing. That’s what’s needed – 3/4 vote of each chamber of Congress. For sure, we will not be able to pass reforms that would reduce the influence of political dynasties given the current composition of both Houses. I doubt if the Senate would agree to the abolition of a Senate that is nationally elected. It will also be a huge distraction to the legislative work of Congress.” La Vina said.
Laywer Ishak Mastura, head of the Regional Board of Investments of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said “the more strategic thing is that Charter Change for Federalism happens, whether by Con-Con or Con-As. For the Bangsamoro the more reason that Congress can already tackle a CAB-compliant autonomy law that can be carried over or entrenched in the new Federal Constitution that provides for additional powers for a future Bangsamoro State.”
Kaloy Manlupig of Balay Mindanaw said “If this is true, this could be the most effective way of getting rid of the trapos in Congress. Duterte has repeatedly stated his position that those who would craft the Constitution of the Federal Republic of the Philippines should be perpetually barred from running in any elective position.”
Duterte had repeatedly said he favors ConCon over ConAss.
Manlupig said revising the Constitution through ConAss will also “violate the will of the people” because the representatives were elected to legislate. “Unya magsulat na nuon Constitution. Nabuang na” (Now they will write the Constitution. Crazy).
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo of the Bangsamoro Study Group (BSG) said that with the shift from ConCon to ConAss. he is “afraid this will affect the peace roadmap approved by the President that calls for two simultaneous tracks for BBL and Constitutional amendment for the shift to federalism.”
“In the peace roadmap, a simultaneous push for BBL and federalism is possible since there are two separate institutions that will deal with the two, i.e. Congress for BBL and the Constitutional Convention. If we go by ConAss, with Congress constituting itself as the constituent assembly, it may not have sufficient time to deal with both.”
For lawyer Raissa Jajurie, also of the BSG, the ConCon was “already problematic for us Bangsamoro, as we worried about who will bring our voice to the Constitutional discourse, about how we can participate in the electoral exercise so we can be at part of the discourse. But here comes ConAss… Now, we don’t even have that chance.”
Lawyer Benedicto Bacani, Executive Director of the Institute for Autonomy and Governance, told MindaNews that if the mode of amending the Constituiton would be via ConAss, “the peace process roadmap has to be revisited. It will have to be fast-tracked.”
Bacani acknowledged that ConAss is “faster and less expensive” but it is also “less representative in changing the Constitution.”
Under the Duterte administration’s peace roadmap, work on the new proposed Bangsamoro enabling law “will be done simultaneous with the moves to shift to a federal set-up, the latter expected to come later under the planned timeline.”
In a statement, the Makabayan bloc in Congress said they object to the proposed ConAss because “it will not be acceptable to the people as they perceive Congress to be dominated by political dynasties and fear that vested and self-serving interests would inevitably influence proposed changes to the Constitution.”
Representatives Carlos Isagani T. Zarate of Bayan Muna, Antonio Tinio and Francisca Castro of ACT Teachers, and Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela urged Alvarez to reconsider ConAss as the mode for amending the Constitution.
“Makabayan is open to charter change if it will empower the poor, the oppressed and national minorities, enshrine national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform, and promote equitable distribution of wealth, through a mode acceptable to the people – but certainly not through constituent assembly,” it said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)