House to prioritize economic over political cha-cha

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – "This has been, and remains up to this minute, a media event." 

House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II said on Tuesday, August 19, that until a bill or a resolution is filed in Congress, House leaders consider as mere noise proposals to amend the Constitution to allow President Benigno Aquino III to seek a second term.

"The truth is when it comes to political cha-cha (charter change), until it becomes something that we can consider in the House, then as far we're concerned, until there is no (measure, it's just) a media event. Otherwise, we will be tied in determining what it really means," Gonzales said in a news briefing.

At least 3 administration lawmakers in the House – Representatives Jerry Treñas of Iloilo, Ben Evardone of Eastern Samar and Edgar Erice of Caloocan City – have expressed support for suggestions to grant the President the power to run for a second term. However, no one has filed a bill to formalize the proposal.  

Erice said he is still finalizing consultations before  he files his bill. 

The Liberal Party has no official stand on the issue. It was Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumed Liberal Party standard bearer for 2016, who first pushed for the idea but Senate President Franklin Drilon, vice chairman of the Liberal Party, has shot down proposal.

The House leadership has yet to hold a meeting on the matter, Gonzales said. House sessions are currently on pause this week and will resume Tuesday, August 19. 

No meetings have also been held within the  LP, Gonzales said, as he denied reports that the party earlier called for a meeting to discuss charter change.  

'A media event'

"There have been no formal or informal meetings about this because we ourselves, we have not attended any meetings, dialogues or consultations about this matter. This has been, and remains up to this minute, a media event," Gonzales said. 

Long before the President expressed openness to constitutional amendments to to clip the powers of the Supreme Court and allow him a second term in an interview with TV5, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr has lobbied – and so far failed – to get Aquino's endorsement to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution, among them, to lift foreign ownership restrictions. 

Malacañang still could not provide a categorical answer on whether Aquino would support economic charter change. 

"Siguro po sa ngayon ang masasabi lang namin ay ganito: Meron namang proseso na magaganap diyan kung saan ay magpapanukala ang mga mambabatas ng partikular na mga panukala nila at meron naman silang proseso sa Batasan para pagtukoy diyan. Kaya hahayaan na muna namin na ‘yung prosesong ‘yon ay maganap nang naaayon sa kagustuhan ng mga mambabatas," Coloma said. 

(For now, what we can say is this: There is a process that lawmakers can undertake for their proposals and there is a process at Batasan for that. So, let us let the process take its course based on how lawmakers want it.)

Belmonte had been firm in saying that his resolution for charter change limited to economic provisions, which is now up for debate on the House floor, will not include political provisions such as term extensions. 

But even with this earlier commitment from House leaders, Gonzales admitted that they cannot stop any lawmaker from filing a bill as part of the legislative process.

A House member may also propose to include new term limits when the charter change resolution reaches the period of amendments. Acceptance of any proposed amendments, however, is still be subject to voting. 

Numbers game

"Nobody can stop anybody from proposing an individual amendment. It's up to the body to accept or not. But at the end of the day, you're going to need a three-fourths vote," Gonzales said. 

Gonzales said the plenary will not wait for bills on constitutional amendments in the political provisions of the 1987 Charter, which have yet to be filed, to be resolved at the committee level before moving on with economic cha-cha on the floor. 

The first round of interpellations for amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution will be held on Tuesday, August 26.

Gonzales reminded lawmakers planning to push for term extensions or a second term to consider the numbers. There are only 113 Liberal Party members out of the 290 House members. At least 218 votes are needed to pass a proposed amendment to the Constitution.  

"You must note that no political party in the House can do it alone. The LP in the House is only 113. I'm even referring to the economic cha-cha. You need three-fourths vote. Meaning, even LP by itself cannot do it alone," he said.

Gonzales added: "You need to get the consent of NPC, NP, NUP, party-list. Then you build a common ground. You build a consensus. But if we can't even build a consensus (on economic cha-cha), then you know what's going to happen."

Lawmakers have varying opinions on charter change for political purposes, with some lauding it as a good move and others slamming it as political suicide.

Coloma downplayed comments that the lack of a unified stand on charter change is a sign that the House majority is not solidly behind the President. 

Gonzales said differing stands among the House majority is a given, noting how administration allies were also divided over then bills on reproductive health and sin tax in the 15th Congress. 

All other administrations after the presidency of Cory Aquino, the President's mother, attempted to revise the constitution. None of them succeeded due to lack of public and political support. Rappler.com