(UPDATED) The Speaker proposes the formation of a Constitutional Commission after critics said there would be abuse of power in a Constituent Assembly
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said he would suggest to President Rodrigo Duterte to issue an executive order (EO) to create for a Constitutional Commission (Con-Com).
The Con-Com, whose members will be appointed, is envisioned to help the Constituent Assembly in amending the 1987 Constitution.
"Nalulungkot ako na medyo negatibo ang dating nito dahil nga siguro sa nasirang tiwala ng bayan sa Kongreso," Alvarez told Radyo Singko on Monday, August 1. (I'm sad that there is a negative perception on this, which may be attributed to low trust rating of Congress.)
"We thought about this over the weekend, and we will propose to the President to issue an executive order that will form the Constitutional Commission," Alvarez said.
Several lawmakers and groups have opposed Duterte's preference for charter change via a Constituent Assembly to pave the way for federalism.
Under a Constituent Assembly, sitting members of Congress turn themselves into a body that would amend the Constitution. Amendments will be finalized when a majority of registered Filipino voters approves them in a plebiscite.
Duterte originally preferred a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con), wherein a body separate from Congress is elected or appointed to change the charter.
But the President changed his mind because of the Con-Con's higher costs at P6 billion to P7 billion compared to a Constituent Assembly's possible budget of P2 billion.
In a federal system, the Philippines will be divided into several autonomous states that will be in charge of their own laws, budget, development, industries, infrastructure, and culture.
The national government is left to take care of issues with nationwide bearing like foreign policy and national security.
Duterte, Alvarez, and their allies have been championing federalism in a bid to decentralize power and wealth from "imperial" Manila.
Con-Com members, tasks
According to Alvarez, his proposed Con-Com will include 20 experts in constitutional law who can immediately work on a draft Constitution while Congress is busy on other legislation.
The Speaker is eyeing the following to become Con-Com members:
Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno
Former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr
Former Cagayan de Oro City Mayor Reuben Canoy
San Beda College of Law dean Ranhilio Aquino
Ex-Senator Orlando Mercado
The Con-Com will have to submit its draft Constitution to Congress sitting as the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly then reviews, debates, and votes on the draft.
The lawmakers will submit the final proposal to a plebiscite that may be held alongside the 2019 midterm polls.
"Maybe the draft can be ready in 6 months, and then Congress as a Constituent Assembly can start the debate. The people are free to participate in the debates," explained Alvarez.
He also reiterated his view that a Constituent Assembly, contrary to what critics say, will not be prone to abuse.
"At the end of the day, it is still the people who will decide if they want the new Constitution through a plebiscite," said Alvarez.
Involve all sectors
On Monday, Camarines Sur 1st District Representative Rolando Andaya also made the call for a "non-partisan charter change study" to be conducted by experts to be appointed by Duterte.
“You need this study group composed of eminent persons to prepare the road map. And what they will come up with will be the working paper for Charter change. Hindi mo pwedeng itapon kaagad sa mga politiko ang trabaho. Dapat may batayan (You can't just throw this on the politicians. There should be basis)," said Andaya in a statement.
He added there is already precedent for such a group because former presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph "Erap" Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo put up similar groups in their time.
While Andaya did not express preference for either a Con-Con or Constituent Assembly, he said there should be "clear parameters" set when the government goes about changing the Constitution, keeping in mind the needs of other sectors.
“There’s a constituency lobbying for the lifting of economic restrictions. There are those who want to water down its progressive provisions like agrarian reform and the no foreign bases clause. Meron din diyan na tahimik pa lang muna pero gusto tanggalin ang term limits sa mga elected officials (There are those who are quiet for now but want to remove the term limits of elected officials)," said Andaya.
“When we revise the Constitution, will it be a repair job or a total overhaul? Merong magsasabi na, ‘Surgical strike lang tayo. We just excise the bad ones.' Pero tiyak meron kokontra at sasabihin na aayusin na rin lang naman natin, ayusin na natin lahat, parang one time, big time," he added.
(When we revise the Constitution, will it be a repair job or a total overhaul? There will be people who will say, 'Let's just stick to a surgical strike. We just excise the bad ones.' But surely, there will be people who will go against that and suggest that if we are going to make changes, it should be one time, big time.)