By Hannah Torregoza
After a month-long break, the Senate will resume regular sessions next week with the proposed amendments to the 1987 Constitution immediately scheduled for deliberations in the committee level.
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, chair of the Senate committee on Constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, confirmed that the panel will resume discussions on the various resolutions on Charter change that aims to pave the way for a shift to a federal form of government.
“Yes, we will resume the discussions started by then committee chair Senator (Franklin) Drilon. We will conduct the hearing on Wednesday (Jan. 17) at 9 a.m.,” Pangilinan said in an interview over Radio DZBB.
Some senators, particularly Senate minority leader Drilon, earlier deplored plans by President Duterte’s allies in the House of Representatives to railroad the holding of a national plebiscite in May 2018 to ratify amendments to the Charter to fast track the shift to federalism.
To address these qualms over Charter change, Pangilinan said he has sent out notices inviting former members of the Supreme Court (SC), among them former Justices Reynato Puno, Antonio Nachura, Vicente Mendoza, Hilario Davide, Adolfo Azcuna, Artemio Panganiban, members of the academe, and former Constitutional Commission (Concom) to attend the hearing on Wednesday.
Pangilinan also said he has invited former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and other members of the Duterte Cabinet to attend the discussions.
“The job of amending the Constitution is with the Legislative and it’s not with the Executive, but of course, out of courtesy we are seeking their inputs,” said Pangilinan, who is a member of the Senate minority bloc.
“But strictly speaking, amendments to the Constitution is under the Legislative branch,” he said.
Senate majority leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III said the Senate majority bloc will hold a meeting Sunday night to discuss the upper chamber’s legislative agenda.
Sotto, however, clarified that the Charter change proposal is not included in the Senate’s list of priority bills.
“Yung Chacha (Charter change) hindi naman nakalagay sa listahan yun eh. It’s just an option of some ideas na napapag-usapan ng mga legislator at leadership ng House. Pwede namin talakayin yun, pero hindi dapat pag-usapan yun pag malapit na eleksyon (Charter change is not included in the list. It’s just an option of some ideas being broached by some legislators and leadership at the House. We can take it up but I think it should not be discussed when elections are near),” Sotto said in a separate DZBB interview.
However, he believes House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’ plan to hold a referendum by May 2018 is much too soon, saying that while amendments to the Constitution is possible, a complete overhaul of the Constitution is impossible in a two-year timeframe.
“Tingin ko amendments to the Constitution, mas madali yun, mas kayang gawin yun, mas katanggap-tanggap sa mga kababayan natin. Sapagkat kung complete overhaul, di naman matatapos ng isang taon yun. Mahinang-mahina, payat na payat ang dalawa or tatlong taon sa full-blown na Constitutional Convention (Concon) na gusto ng iba,” Sotto said.
“Bukod sa napakamahal, napakagastos. Dodoblehin mo ang kasalukuyang budget ng House at ng Senado ngayon,” he pointed out.
“Tingin ko talaga there should be amendments to the Constitution. The easiest way is through a Constituent Assembly (ConAss). Hindi naman ang Senado, papayag na yung buong Constitution ay papalitan. Ang mahahalagang provision lang ang pag-uusapan eh,” he said.
Pangilinan, on the other hand, assured that his committee will delve deeper whether amendments to the Constitution would warrant a change to federalism.
“Well, yun ang dapat nating tanungin doon sa hearing. Ano ba talaga yung pakay ng federalism at paano ito makakatulong sa pagbago ng Saligang Batas at pag-amyenda?” Pangilinan pointed out.
“Ito ba ay madadagdagan ang trabaho. Ito ba ay matutugunan ang kahirapan? Ito ba ay may kinalaman para magkaroon ng mas magandang ekonomiya. In other words dapat pinag-uusapan at maipaliwanag bago umpisahan ang charter change,” he said.
Pangilinan said he will also consult other members of the Senate regarding the timetable since other House members are eager to move the Charter change measure forward.
“So we will have consultation with the other members of the Senate regarding the timetable. Pero crucial dito syempre sa timetable na ito kung talaga bang tayo ba ay magkakasundo bilang Senado na voting separately ito at hindi voting jointly,” he stressed.
“Yan ang isang concern. Kung hindi pa tayo magkasundo sa voting jointly o separately, eh teka muna bakit muna tayo magta-timetable diyan eh dapat ay ayusin muna natin yan at magkaliwanagan sa mga usaping ganyan,” he pointed out.
Sotto, on the other hand, said the Senate is keen on starting the debates on the proposed bill calling for the establishment of a national ID system.
He also said part of the legislative priorities of the Senate include the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), and amendments to the Human Security Act.
The Senate is also set to review the charters of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), the Banko Sentra ng Pilipinas and the bill that seeks to put a stop to the “endo” practice among companies.