MANIAL – Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno on Friday said amending the 1987 Constitution through a constitutional convention can run up to a billion pesos.
"Alam mo, ‘di ko pa napapag-aralan. Roughly, back of the envelope estimate, ko mga P1 billion ‘yan, mga ganu’n. One year requirement ‘yun kung matatapos siya within one year, kasi magre-renta ka ng separate office, office supplies, equipment," he explained.
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier told the ANC Forum before the Management Association of the Philippines about the proposal for a shift from the unitary highly centralized form of government to a federal form of government as an advocacy of President Rodrigo Duterte.
While that's been a campaign platform, what drew attention was the abrupt change in the preferred mode.
"At first the president wanted a constitutional convention but he is now having second thoughts because it involves a huge sum of money. Last night after the NSC meeting, there was a discussion between the President, the Senate President, the House Speaker and Sec. Diokno. The DBM Secretary agreed that Congress should simply form a constituent assembly to revise the present Constitution. It will be cheaper and faster. We committed to do it for the country," Alvarez said.
According to Alvarez, they want to submit the new constitution to the electorate for ratification in the 2019 elections.
In an ambush interview, Alvarez added, "Ang problema kasi ‘yung budget, kasi marami tayong kailangang pera, especially yung pag-increase ng salaries nu’ng police personnel, pag-increase ng salaries ng mga military personnel. Medyo nahihirapan si Sec. Diokno na mag-allocate pa ng ganung kalaking pera for the constitutional convention. What’s important here is this, as long as ‘yung provisions naman, yung output ng revised constitution maganda naman and acceptable doon sa tao, I don’t think there’s any problem," he explained.
Diokno told DZMM that electing the delegates alone will be pricey. He added this does not even include the operational costs of the actual convention. He said the money could be spent elsewhere.
However, San Beda Graduate School of Law Dean Father Ranhilio Aquino did not buy the excuse that a Con-Ass is cheaper than a Con-Con. "Kung ang pinag-uusapan ay gastos, we can spend for so many things, why can we not spend for a worthwhile rewriting of the Constitution. And ‘yung pabilisan, hindi pabilisan ang pagsusulat ng bagong Saligang Batas. That has to be well thought off, pero let’s not be afraid because the Constitutional Commission of 1987 took only one year to write our constitution. So, I’m not convinced, to be honest, by the reasons they are giving for a constituent assembly," he explained.
Aquino's main beef is that having a constituent assembly of the Senate and the House of Representatives revise the Constitution will open it to suspicion that their own vested interests will be written into the charter.
"There's always the suspicion na ‘yung mga mambabatas ang isusulat nila sa Saligang Batas ‘yung makakabenepisyo sa kanila, and even if it turns out not to be true, to write a Constitution under that suspicion is not good," Aquino said.
The law dean cited this example. "That provision on dynasties, that principle on dynasties has been in our constitution for the past 30 years. Di inaksyunan ng ating Kongreso. If we cannot even expect them to be faithful to the Constitution in that respect, how can we trust them to rewrite the Constitution? Together with federal government, there must come a resolute dismantling of dynasties and also the curtailing of any ambitions at secession."
It's a sentiment shared by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, an ally of Duterte in Congress.
"Sa nakikita natin, itong Con-Ass ay talagang di katanggap-tanggap sa mamayan… Past administrations, nagsusulong ng Con-Ass. Why? Nakikita nila vested interest, selfish interest ng mambabatas ay mamamayagpag kung Con-Ass ang magiging mode," he explained.
Zarate added, "Pinakamalalim na rason, ito magbubukas ng mga sinusulong na makasariling interes sa loob ng Kongreso. Alam natin may nakasalang diyan para i-liberalize, buksan ang economic provisions, tanggalin protectionist policies ng ating Constitution."
Alvarez sought to address this concern about conflict of interest.
"Ay hindi, hindi naman. Kaya nga ano eh, gagawin nating inclusive ito, hindi lang ‘yung lahat pag-uusapan, Congress. Kailangan, mayroon participation dito ‘yung different sectors of the society," he explained.
Alvarez added the process will be inclusive and transparent. "Magkakaroon ng public hearing ‘yan eh, kung ano ang gusto nating baguhin sa Constitution. So, doon sa public hearing at doon sa page-educate ng mga tao, kasama natin diyan yung mga civil groups, kagaya nitong business groups, Management Association of the Philippines at iba pa."
Zarate said Con-Ass may distract Congress from other pressing matters.
"Dahil sa napakaraming sinusulong na legsilative reforms, if we go through Con-Ass, it will only distract Congress sa kaniyang primary function to legislate.
However, Alvarez guaranteed Congress can juggle their tasks as legislators and constitution writers.
"Wala namang problema sa scheduling, kasi alam mo, sa Congress, kaya naman naming hatiin ‘yung trabaho. Wala tayong problema dyan. Kaya namin, kayang gawin yan ng Congress,” Alvarez said.
Meanwhile, Aquino also raised questions on the qualifications of the lawmakers to write the Constitution.
"Not everybody there who has been elected congressman or senator is highly qualified to write a constitution,’ he said.
Aquino added, "That you were elected simply means you’re popular, that you were elected simply means that people voted you there. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have the capacity to write a constitution, doesn’t necessarily mean you have the capacity to write laws. There are many there who don’t really write good laws."
Akbayan Party-list Rep. Tom Villarin insisted that the constitution must be amended by constitutional convention, not assembly, to uphold what remains of the democratic checks and balances in the legislative branch of government.
"A constitutional assembly under a supermajority in both chambers of Congress is like having zombies to rewrite our Constitution," said Villarin.
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said he thinks this may be why a supermajority was forged in Congress, to the detriment of the formation of a minority bloc.
"Why the obsession of controlling the House minority after forging a supermajority? One of the principal reasons is out of the bag. Only one day after the selection of the majority’s 'minority leader,' the leadership of the majority coalition has opted to convert the Congress into a constituent assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution, like the shift from unitary/presidential to federal/parliamentary, instead of the original plan to call for a constitutional convention to effect charter change,” Lagman said.
“The numerical ascendancy of the new administration’s allies in both the Senate and the House makes the Congress, acting as a constituent assembly, a convenient launching pad for federalism, more than the projected constitutional convention which may not be easy to control,” he added.
Former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Pampanga second district representative, has filed House Concurrent Resolution 1 of the Senate and House calling for a constitutional convention and House Bill 486 implementing this proposal.
Arroyo's Con-Con proposal will be composed of 12 incumbent senators and 12 incumbent congressmen, as well as 24 delegates appointed by the President from various sectors.
The President will promulgate an executive order to determine the composition of the appointive delegates. Any appointee of the president who is also an incumbent official shall be deemed resigned and shall not be qualified to run for public office until the adjournment of the convention. Within 120 days from its first session, this Con-Con shall submit the revised constitution to the president who shall fix the date for the plebiscite within 60 days from submission.
Alvarez has his own Con-Con proposal which will constitute a convention of delegates elected per district and 20 delegates appointed by the President.
At the Senate, Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin M. Drilon filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 1 that calls for an elected constitutional convention to propose amendments to, or revision of, the 1987 Constitution.
Another proposal for an elected convention comes from Rep. Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia (3rd District, Cebu City) who filed House Bill 312.
Drilon's party-mate, QC Rep. Sonny Belmonte renewed his proposal to amend Constitution to lift restrictive economic provisions.
On the flipside, there are also Con-Ass proposals from Representatives Alfredo Benitez and Ace Barbers.