House, Senate leaders resolve Cha-cha impasse

Senate President Koko Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez

MANILA — Leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives met Wednesday night and agreed to “momentarily set aside” their differences and determine what specific amendments or revisions in the 1987 Constitution would be tackled.

“We have decided to focus on the revisions that have to be made rather than how these changes will be effected,” Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said.

“After this we can tackle how we will go about enacting these amendments in a manner that maximizes citizen involvement and is consistent with the law,” he added.

The Senate chief said the contrasting views of the two Houses of Congress on how to amend the Constitution “should not distract us from the crux of this exercise: to make revisions to the charter that will help improve our people’s lives.”

Present during Wednesday’s meeting were Pimentel and Senate Majority Floor Leader Vicente Sotto III, and their counterparts in the Lower House, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, Sr.

Sotto described the meeting as “cordial and fruitful.”

Asked if the verbal tussle between the Senate and House officials is over, Sotto said: “Yes.”

Senate leaders maintained that voting on amendments or revisions to the 31-year-old Charter should be separate.  But House leaders insist on pushing through with the revisions without the Senate.

Alvarez blamed framers of the Constitution for not stating clearly on how both Houses of congress should vote – jointly or separately – in amending the Charter.

Senator Francis Escudero urged pro-federalism lawmakers to present the type of federalism model they intend to adopt before arguing over how Congress should vote on the measure.

“All I’m hearing are just concepts.  There are no details yet on what kind, or shape or color of this proposed federalism they want to lay down and implement in this country. I haven’t even seen any specific content,” Escudero said in an interview.

“What type of model do they want to use? Would it be similar to America? Malaysia? I also wish to know if this is applicable to our nation or not,” Escudero pointed out.

“Those considerations should come first before any actual proposed amendments,” he stressed.

Escudero had earlier pushed for a comprehensive study on the proposal to amend the Constitution ahead of discussions on whether the Senate and the House of Representatives should convene or not to change the Charter.

Even President Duterte’s promise of forming a Commission that would conduct a deeper study on Charter change (Cha-cha) has not yet been formed, he noted.

“So why are we going to debate on why we should convene when the Commission that is supposed to study this proposal hasn’t even started?” Escudero queried.

President Duterte, Pimentel, and Alvarez want a shift to federalism from the current bicameral, presidential form of government. The three are members of the PartidoDemokratiko Pilipino–Lakasng Bayan (PDP-Laban) where Pimentel sits as president.

Former Senate President Aquilino Q. Pimentel Jr., the acclaimed father of the Local Government Code and main architect of the federal movement, expressed hopes the shift to federalism is done during Duterte’s term which ends in 2022.

“I believe it is abundantly clear that a review of our Charter is long overdue, as repeatedly stressed by the resource persons at the Senate hearing tackling constitutional amendments,” the younger Pimentel said.

Legal luminaries during the January 17 hearing of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes stressed it was high time to review and make changes to the three decade-old Constitution.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna, a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission, pointed out that the present Constitution “is the longest running Constitution of the Philippines unamended; not a single comma has been changed. Should you amend or revise the Constitution? Yes, because it’s already 30 years.”

Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno agreed with Azcuna, stressing the world has changed since the Constitution was drafted.

“I would like to think that it is time to give the ’87 Constitution a look over, a no-nonsense review,” Puno said.

“Conditions have changed. The political, the social and the economic configuration, not only of the Philippines, but the whole world have changed. We now have globalization. We now see the effects of the revolution caused by technology.” he added.