By Hannah Torregoza and Charissa Luci-Atienza
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon insisted yesterday that the Senate and the House of Representatives should vote separately in case Congress, through a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass), makes changes to the Constitution in pursuit of a federal shift in government.
Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III made a commitment to formally file a resolution calling on Congress to convene into a Constituent Assembly to deliberate on the proposed Charter change (Cha-cha) and pave the way for the shift to a federal form of government.
Drilon said he believes that no member of the Senate will agree to a joint voting given the overwhelming number of lawmakers in the House of Representatives.
“No one in the Senate will agree to a joint voting. We will insist on separate voting. The Congress can propose amendments to the Constitution using the regular lawmaking procedure,” Drilon said.
The minority leader also reminded that what happened during the approval of the declaration of martial law in Mindanao should “serve as an example of how the Senate’s power could be reduced to nothing if joint voting is followed.”
The former justice secretary, likewise, contradicted House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s belief that a referendum may already be held as early as May this year.
“That’s a timeframe too close and improbable. First, we have the impeachment case of Chief Justice Ma.Lourdes Sereno, which, according to reports, would be forwarded to the senate by May, 2018,” Drilon pointed out.
“Second, the second half of 2018 is when election fever would take place. How can that timeframe be possible?” he added.
Pimentel has said he is mulling submitting his proposed amendments to the public for plebiscite in May, 2019.
President Duterte has said he prefers Congress convening into a Con-Ass than into a Constitutional Commission (ConCom) to be less costly.
The Senate leader agreed saying that convening into a Con-Ass would spare the government two years and at least P20-billion for the preparation. Pimentel said members of Congress already act as the peoples’ representative since they were duly-elected by the people.
At the Lower Chamber, leaders said they are dead-set on approving the concurrent resolution calling on the House and Senate to convene as a Constituent Assembly to draft the Philippine Federal Constitution this month and transmitting it to the Senate for its concurrence next month.
Southern Leyte Rep. Roger Mercado, chairman of the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments, said the plenary deliberations on House Concurrent Resolution No. 9 started on December 13, and will be concluded this month.
“We started it [at the plenary] last December 13, palagay ko matatapos ito in January, let us say. So by February maipapadala na ito sa mga senador for their concurrence,” he said in a radio interview.
He also noted that they will not engage in a “drastic revision” and total overhaul of the 1987 Constitution.
“To me, specific, maybe surgical changes to adopt to the present conditions. Because our Constitution is 30 years old,” Mercado said.
He even cited the possibility that congressmen and senators would vote separately to the proposed amendments.
“I think Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and our colleagues in Congress, we are amenable kung separate voting,” the Visayan House leader said.
“We are willing [to vote separately]. That is my personal view after I have talked to other members na wala naman silang problema,” Mercado said, citing that Senate and House voted separately in a joint session when they extended martial law in Mindanao until December 2018.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, one of the staunch advocates of federalism in the Lower Chamber, expressed hope that the provisions limiting foreign ownership in various sectors of the economy will be removed.
“Federalism and foreign investments will sustain the economy’s growth momentum and enable the government to put flesh into President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision to disperse growth and development to the regions,” Villafuerte said.
“The switch to a federal setup is the way to attain the President’s goal of ensuring equitable regional growth and countryside development under his zero to 10-point socioeconomic agenda,” he said.
Mercado also said they are eyeing to extend the term of local officials from three years to four years.