By Melvin Gascon | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Thursday that President Duterte was urging Congress to convene into a constituent assembly to scrap the party list system which had allegedly been infiltrated by communist insurgents.
According to Sotto, the President suggested in a meeting with leaders of both houses of Congress and the military in November that the Senate and the House of Representatives convene to amend the constitutional provision on sectoral representation through the party list system.
He stressed, however, that the terms of office of elected officials would not be touched in the planned Charter charge (Cha-cha).
Quoting the President, Sotto said: “I want this problem with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) solved. The best way is that we remove the party list system, or change it in the constitution so we can call for a constituent assembly and amend that.”
“You may then take advantage of the opportunity to amend the economic provisions,” the Senate President said, still quoting Mr. Duterte.
Sotto was responding to reporters’ inquiries on the latest moves to amend the Charter, which surfaced after copies of a proposed Resolution of Both Houses No. 2 was made public on Wednesday.
RBH 2, filed by two staunch Duterte allies, Senators Francis Tolentino and Ronald dela Rosa, seeks to convene both houses of Congress into a constituent assembly to introduce “limited amendments” to the 1987 Constitution.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said changing the Charter was “the sole constitutional prerogative of Congress” that did not need Mr. Duterte’s “blessing.”
No change in priority
Roque added that the administration’s “No. 1 priority right now” was dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the the acquisition of vaccines.
“The President has no other top priority except to end this pandemic by giving vaccines to our fellow countrymen,” he said.
He also dismissed as “baseless rumors” that Charter change would result in the extension of the President’s term.
“The President has made it clear that he has no desire to remain even for a minute beyond his term of office on June 30, 2022,” he said.
Ako Bicol Rep. Alfredo Garbin, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, said the House would fast-track constitutional amendments, but only the economic provisions when hearings for Charter change resume on Jan. 13.
He said his panel would start hearing bills on Charter change amendments, particularly RBH 2 filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco in July 2019.
Garbin, together with House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, good government and public accountability panel chair Rep. Michael Aglipay, and former constitutional amendments panel chair and now Deputy Speaker Rep. Rufus Rodriguez met with Velasco on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming hearings.
“The directive [from Velasco] is really confined on restrictive economic provisions and specifically his resolution, RBH 2,” Garbin said.
RBH 2 seeks to amend several provisions in the Constitution that prevent foreign ownership of land and businesses in the country.
In a separate phone interview with the Inquirer on Thursday, Rodriguez stressed that Congress “will not touch on any political amendments on our political structure.”
In a statement, Anakalusugan Rep. Mike Defensor opposed the move.
Defensor said he was open to a review of the 34-year-old Constitution but that it was “not the right time” and that was the country was “still battling the COVID-19 pandemic and not achieving much success.”
Barry Gutierrez, spokesperson for Vice President Leni Robredo, expressed the same sentiment, saying the proposed move to amend the Constitution would be “a waste of people’s time and money.”
“Shouldn’t we first ensure that every Filipino gets access to vaccines before we waste our time again on Cha-cha?” he said in a statement.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said fresh attempts to amend the 1987 Constitution during a pandemic was “an exercise in futility.”
“Our history tells us that Cha-cha has a zero chance of success in any administration that is already in the home stretch,” he said.
He vowed to oppose any moves to amend the Charter, along with Senators Risa Hontiveros, Francis Pangilinan and Leila de Lima.
“Instead of talking about Cha-cha, let’s talk about how we can bring down inflation and let’s talk about how we can bring back lost jobs and livelihood opportunities,” Drilon said. —WITH REPORTS FROM NESTOR CORRALES, JEROME ANING AND KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING