MANILA - Former Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr. has returned to the public eye, joining calls to revise the constitution and shift to a federal system of government.
De Venecia, 81, is returning to familiar territory having campaigned hard for this during his time. But unlike before, he’s now doing it without the burden of suspicion.
His support for charter change often came with allegations of promoting vested interests. Critics claimed he only wanted to become prime minister under his proposed parliamentary set-up.
De Venecia backed the ill-fated people’s initiative, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2006.
He tried another route shortly afterward, attempting to convene Congress as a constituent assembly, but the proposal was defeated as well.
De Venecia on Friday acknowledged the burden was on sitting legislators to prove they could rise above personal ambitions.
“I always believe that inside them, there is patriotism and a desire to do good for the country,” he told ANC’s Early Edition.
“In my case, nobody can (now) question that I am proposing this because I want to go back to office because I am 81 years old.”
But he admitted that proposals to dissolve Congress and grant President Rodrigo Duterte temporary legislative powers during the transition to federalism were not helping.
“That one should not even be entertained,” he said. “That should be shot immediately and torn to smithereens.”
Neither, he said, should legislators postpone next year’s midterm elections if only to allow the constituent assembly to finish work on a new federal constitution.
De Venecia said 4 to 6 months would be enough to finish the job, citing existing studies and proposals legislators could as models.
“We should proceed with the elections next year,” he said.
The ruling PDP-Laban party’s political think tank is proposing a semi-presidential, semi-parliamentary federal model where power will be shared between a president and a prime minister.
The proposed federal constitution is a “uniquely Filipino mode based on the best practices abroad,” said Jonathan Malaya, executive director of the PDP-Laban Federalism Institute.
Unlike the PDP-Laban model, De Venecia wants a unicameral legislature, saying the two houses of Congress were “always competing, fighting each other.”
Much of the attacks have been single-handedly coming from Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, who described the Senate as “mabagal na kapulungan” (slow assembly).
During his time, De Venecia said he steered clear of criticizing the Senate “as a matter of courtesy.” But he said Alvarez might have been driven only by “frustration.”
Fellow senators had asked Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III to stand up for the chamber in the face of Alvarez’s attacks.
De Venecia said legislators should “rise to the occasion” in a task much bigger than themselves.