Congress to tackle cha-cha in January 2017 after budget deliberations

Senator Manny Pacquiao delivers his first privilege speech today, August 8, 2016. Pacquiao filed 3 Senate bills on the re-imposition of death penalty in the Philippines. The neophyte senator was interpellated by Senators Sotto, De Lima, Villanueva, Hontiveros and Pangilinan.(MNS photo)

Senator Manny Pacquiao delivers his first privilege speech today, August 8, 2016. Pacquiao filed 3 Senate bills on the re-imposition of death penalty in the Philippines. The neophyte senator was interpellated by Senators Sotto, De Lima, Villanueva, Hontiveros and Pangilinan.(MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) — Leaders of both chambers of Congress on Tuesday said they could start tackling changes to the 1987 Philippine Constitution by January next year, in the Duterte administration’s bid to shift to federalism.

This was the announcement made by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, after emerging from a meeting at a hotel in Mandaluyong.

Both congressional leaders, however, clarified that nothing has been decided yet during the meeting regarding charter change.

They stressed that Congress first has to work on the country’s 2017 budget before it can focus on amending the almost 30-year-old charter.

“Between now and the end of November, uunahin namin ang deliberation of budget after that, by January both houses puwede na namin talakayin ang revision ng Constitution,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said he is proposing the creation of a constitutional commission that can prepare the draft charter while the lawmakers are busy deliberating on the national budget.

Pimentel, meanwhile, said: “Diyan naka-focus, sa consti assembly… Iyong con-ass (Constituent Assembly) puwedeng Janauary (ma-tackle).”

He also mentioned that he and his fellow senators would be using the remaining five months before January 2017 to brush up on the Constitution, as Congress is being pushed to convene as a con-ass for the charter change.

“Our priority now is the budget but on our free time puwede kami magbasa-basa (on the Constitution),” he said.

Joint or separate voting?

Meanwhile, on the issue of whether the Senate and House of Representatives would be voting jointly or separately in a constitutional assembly, Alvarez said this was the least of their worries.

“Mukhang di tayo magkalaproblema diyan (kung voting separately). As long as the intentions are the same, wala naman siguro problema,” he said.

Alvarez said drawing up the contents of the revised charter are more valuable than the issue on whether both houses of Congress should vote jointly or separately on the matter.

For his part, Pimentel noted that there have been “numerous instances” in the past when both chambers of Congress voted separately on different issues.

As for the issue on whether a bill is needed for Senate to convene as a con-ass, Pimentel said there was no need to do so as Senate has the “inherent power” to do so.

Con-ass and constitutional convention (con-con) are two out of only three modes of changing the Constitution.

In a con-ass, members of Congress are convened to amend the Constitution.

In a con-con, the people who will amend the charter will be elected by the people.

The third alternative is a “People’s Initiative,” or a petition of at least 12% of the total number of registered voters. Every legislative district must also be represented by at least 3% of the voters there.

Meanwhile, Tuesday’s meeting was the first of many regular meetings that both chambers will jointly hold.

Alvarez described the meeting as a “fellowship between two houses with the end view of a harmonious relationship to serve the people better.”

The other lawmakers who attended the meeting were Senators Loren Legarda and Ralph Recto. (MNS)

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