Senate panel to tackle charter change proposals next week

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate will hold its first hearing on proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution next week, Senate President Pro-Tempore Franklin Drilon said on Wednesday, November 30.

"Let the debates begin," said Drilon, who chairs the Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes.

He said in a statement that the Senate panel has set its first hearing on December 8.

"This committee understands the importance of this undertaking in the agenda of the current administration so we will ensure that it is given the utmost priority," Drilon said.

He cited 4 "key issues" to be tackled at the first hearing:

“All these must be and will be thoroughly considered, guided by the principle that the vehicle we choose must be democratic, participatory, and inclusive,” Drilon said.

Consultative, transparent process

Drilon, who favors a Con-Con, reiterated that Senate panel's deliberations will be "thorough, consultative and transparent."

The committee has invited resource persons from the  business community, labor, academe, civil society, sectoral and religious groups, constitutional and legal experts, and former Supreme Court justices.

They include former chief justices Hilario Davide Jr, Reynato Puno, and Artemio Panganiban; former SC associate justices Adolf Azcuna, Antonio Nachura, and Vicente Mendoza; constitutional experts Fr Joaquin Bernas and Christian Monsod; and former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea was also invited to the hearing, as well as Makati Business Club chairman Ramon Del Rosario Jr, among others.

The House committee on constitutional amendments had earlier voted in favor of the 17th Congress turning itself into a Con-Ass to amend the Constitution, in a move toward the shift to a federal system of government. The committee report is subject to plenary approval.

President Rodrigo Duterte also favors a ConAss over a Con-Con, as the former is less costly. Critics of Con-Ass, however, say this method will only empower corrupt lawmakers from political dynasties to change the Constitution to fit their interests. (READ: The problem with Con-Ass? Distrust of Congress)

Con-Con spending an investment, not expense

Buhay Representative Lito Atienza, who is opposed to a Con-Ass, said spending on a Con-Con should be seen as an "investment" in the country's future and not an "expense." He noted that the Constitution will be amended for the first time in nearly 30 years.

"Congress should treat the spending for a Constitutional  Convention as an investment in the future of our children, and in the future of our children’s children. We should not treat it as an expense," Atienza said in a statement on Wednesday.

He said if the government can spend P26 billion on elections for officials with fixed terms, as in the case of the 2016 polls, "surely we can spend P8 billion to pick delegates to a Constitutional Convention that will draft us a new Charter that is bound to outlast a generation."

Atienza was responding to the claim of House Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas that a Con-Con – where the people will elect members of the body that will recommend constitutional amendments – will cost the government P6 billion to P8 million.

Fariñas said if Congress just convenes itself into a Con-Ass to propose changes in the charter, the government will only spend P2 billion. 

The third mode of amending the Constitution is through a people's initiative. Constitutional amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters in a plebiscite. – Rappler.com