Debate Rages as Philippines’ President Changes Heart, Now for Con-Ass for Charter Change

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MANILA (PhilAmPress) — President Rodrigo Duterte continues to pitch for amendments to the Philippine Constitution of 1987 to be able to shift from presidential to federal system of government that would hasten growth and development and ensure progress in the different regions of the country.

Duterte’s plans immediately opened a lively debate among leaders of the country and citizens as to the mode of amending the Constitution – an elected Constitutional Convention (Con-con) or Congress constituting itself as an assembly (Con-as) – and the form of federal government – the French model as proposed by the President, the German model or other models in Europe, Asia or America.

Duterte’s latest pitch was made at the first meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) in Malacanang where four former Presidents – Fidel V. Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III and Joseph Estrada — were in attendance, a first in history, together with Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo.

Thirty other leaders of the country, including Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel II, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and the minority leaders as well of the Senate and the House of Representatives attended the NSC meeting.

Following the closed-door meeting, Malacanang disclosed that the NSC members agreed with the plan to amend the Constitution but considered the possibility of a shift from Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) to Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) as a mode to amend the 1987 Constitution.

“It was discussed as a possibility considering the prohibitive costs should they begin the process soon, seeing that SK (Sangguniang Kabataan) elections, proposed salary increases for the PNP (Philippine National Police) are all looming,” said Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella.

Under the Con-Ass mode, members of both houses Congress shall convene into a Constituent Assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution in addition to their regular legislative work under an agreed calendar.

The NSC which is composed of 35 leader-members from the executive and legislative branches of government also discussed various issues facing the country.

Abella said NSC members also tackled the Peace Road Map that included a more comprehensive representation of Bangsamoro entities and also addressed the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front-New People’s Army (CPP-NDF-NPA), and rebel groups like the Cordillera Peoples’ Liberation Army situations.

Other issues discussed were the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, and the West Philippine Sea (WPS) situation.

“The meeting was intended to update and consult with the members of the NSC as the new administration proceeds with its mandate to establish peace and order, create conditions conducive to a more inclusive and better life for all,” he added.

Abella considered the NSC meeting as “historic” with President Duterte and former presidents Ramos, Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo and Aquino gathered in an “extraordinary show of good will and unity” to discuss defense and security issues facing the nation.

Duterte’s pitch for constitutional change and shift to federalism was one of his promises during the election campaign.

While many leaders support Duterte’s plan, others opened up a debate as to the mode of changing the constitution.

In the Senate, former Senate President Franklin Drilon has filed a bill seeking a Con-con where members are elected based on the legislative districts to amend the charter and some senators support the bill. In the Lower Chamber, Speaker Alvarez batted for Con-con but now has a change of heart.

Alvarez said that Congress might be compelled to constitute itself into a constituent assembly (Con-Ass) to revise the 1987 Constitution and effect a shift from the presidential to the federal form of government.

The Speaker said that though majority of lawmakers prefer convening a constitutional convention (Con-Con) compared to Con-Ass, budgetary considerations and priorities by the administration may make the latter the preferred mode of amending the Constitution.

Under a Con-Ass, both Chambers of Congress – the Senate and the House – will convene to propose and listen to amendments to the Constitution from various sectors of society.

Under a Con-Con, regionally elected delegates will convene to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution.

“Initially, we prefer a Con-Con. But the administration of President Roa Duterte seems inclined to fund first the salary increases of policemen and soldiers instead of funding a Con-Con,” Alvarez said.

The Speaker said that in the event that a Con-Ass become the preferred mode to revise the Constitution, he assured that there will be no conflict with the Senate’s and the House’s primary role of enacting laws.

“We can work around our regular schedules to convene as a constituent assembly for the proposed constitutional amendments,” Alvarez said.

The Duterte administration is determined to change the country’s form of government to federalism.

Alvarez said that the unitary presidential system is “incompatible with Philippine historical experience.”

He said that the presidential system, which was imposed by the country’s colonizers, “have contributed to the cycles of inter-generational conflict, hampered economic growth and stunted development.”

Under a federal government, the Davao del Norte lawmaker said that the states to be created would have real autonomy to chart their respective courses, with the end-in-view of fostering lasting peace and achieving economic growth.

“By granting more and specific powers to the state governments, the red tape that leads all the way to Manila will be cut, thus reducing delays and uncertainties inimical to businesses,” he said.

“The shift to federalism will address and eventually end historical injustices that have caused human sufferings and destruction of properties. There will be peace and peace is good for people and for business,” Alvarez said.

Malacanang defended the shift of its position on amending the constitution from constitutional convention to constituent assembly, saying ‘Con-Ass’ is not self-serving exercise for the current lawmakers to change the 1987 Constitution.

Presidential spokesperson  Abella explained that whether Con-Ass or Con-Con, the results of the amendment to the Constitution will be for the benefit of the future leaders of the country.

”It will not be affecting them (current leaders) directly. So being self-serving does not really come into play here,” Abella said in a press briefing in Malacanang.

Early this month, the Palace said President Rodrigo Duterte favors Con-Con considering it is more consultative.

Last Thursday, however, House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez reportedly revealed that President Duterte preferred Congress to convene as a constituent assembly to amend the 29-year-old Constitution and change the form of government from presidential to federalism.

Abella said the Con-Con would require “enormous amount of money” as compared to Con-Ass.

”It’s an enormous amount of money and may affect for example, the proposed increases and the other projects are that also all lined-up,” he explained.

Abella did not give estimate but Alvarez said that the constitutional convention would be needing at least P7 billion budget for the election of delegates and the referendum.

”You know, what we’re moving towards is federalism, right? Remember we all agreed that this is going to be for the greater good. So the intention, in a sense, in a very real sense, justifies the form that it will take,” he said.

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