Congress leaders agree on Con-Ass

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez

MANILA — The top leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives have agreed to convene the two chambers into a constituent assembly (con-ass) to amend the 1987 Constitution and pave the way for a shift to a federal form of government.

But the leaders differ on the timetable for submitting a new charter for voters’ ratification in a nationwide plebiscite.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III wants a plebiscite in 2019, while Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez favors holding it much sooner — in May this year.

Pimentel, who is leading the push for charter change in the Senate, is set to file this week a resolution seeking to have the House and the Senate sit as a con-ass.

“It’s a resolution calling for the Senate to sit together with the House of Representatives as a constituent assembly for the purpose of revising the 1987 Constitution, specifically to study the adoption of a federal system of government,” he said on Monday.

By the end of 2018, the Senate and the House will have come up with a draft charter, Pimentel said.

He said the draft Constitution would be presented to the people in a plebiscite to be held simultaneously with the elections in May 2019.

Speaking to reporters, Pimentel said this meant that elections would proceed as scheduled in 2019, a proposal contrary to the “no-election” (No-el) scenario involving half of the Senate being pushed by Speaker Alvarez.

Alvarez said last week that it might not be practical to elect new senators in 2019 because such elections would complicate the country’s transition to a federal system of government.

He said the 11 senators elected in 2013 could stay in a holdover capacity so they could end their six-year term in 2022 at the same time as the 12 elected in 2016.
Alvarez has a faster timetable in the drafting of a new Constitution that would provide for a shift to a federal form of government.

The Speaker wants a Constitution drafted by a Con-ass to be submitted to the people in a plebiscite this May.

Pimentel defended a Con-ass as the mode of amending the Constitution, saying a constitutional convention (Con-con) whose delegates are elected would cost the government P19 billion.

He said Con-con delegates would have to run, organize their offices and come up with an agenda and thus take two to three years before a concrete proposal on Charter amendments could be finalized.

“So it’s not only a waste of money but also a waste of time,” said Pimentel, president of Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), the party of President Détente.

Under Pimentel’s proposed timeline, a Con-ass would draft proposed amendments to the Constitution within this year.

“Congress is already organized, we already know our members and if we have committees, we will pattern it to our committees,” he said.

Pimentel said a Con-ass might be done with the proposed amendments after the President delivered his second State of the Nation Address in July.

Based on his reading of the 1987 Constitution, Pimentel said there should be separate voting by the Senate and by the House once they handled the proposed amendments in plenary.

He said a vote of three-fourths of the Senate and of the House was needed to amend or revise the 1987 Constitution.

“[The draft proposal should be done] in less than a year so that by January 2019, what is being deliberated and being explained to the public is the final draft, which will be subject to a plebiscite [in May 2019],” he said.

He said holding the plebiscite at the same time as the 2019 elections was a “practical decision,” considering that the government was spending between P7 billion and P10 billion to hold nationwide elections.

Pimentel said PDP-Laban was pushing for a federal form of government and was advocating a bicameral system in which the Senate would be the “venue for voices of the regions.”

Under this system, a senator is elected in a region and a congressman in a district.