In a surprise move, senators give qualified yes to charter debate


Posted at Apr 24 2008 04:42 PM | Updated as of Apr 25 2008 12:42 AM

By Aries Rufo

Majority of the senators have given their qualified support to open debates on charter change, in a major shift of position when, only three months ago, they viewed it with distrust and suspicion.

The chamber’s main proponent Aquilino Pimentel pulled a surprise Wednesday night when he filed Joint Resolution No. 10, with 10 other senators as sponsors, "to convene Congress into a constituent assembly" to revise the Constitution and establish a federal form of government.

More surprising is the fact that Pimentel was able to gather bipartisan support for the charter change resolution, including those who were opposed to it before such as Senators Francis Pangilinan, Francis Escudero and Senate President Manuel Villar.

Only last February, senators criticized an apparent move by the Palace to revive charter change amid corruption charges against the Arroyo administration. Lawmakers believed it was an attempt to distract public attention from graft issues confronting the government.

The numbers indicate a major change of heart from the usually skeptical chamber, suspicious of any attempts to tinker with the Constitution.

It is expected to be calendared for hearings by the Senate committee on constitutional revision and change chaired by Senator Richard Gordon, an administration senator. Gordon, who is not a signatory, says he is studying the resolution.

Trigger debates

How did Pimentel do it?

Pimentel told that he was able to convince his colleagues by assuring them that the main purpose of his initiative "is to spur public discussions" on charter change and the benefits of a federal form of government. Pimentel is an advocate of federalism.

"The concept (of federalism) is new to the country. I filed the bill to trigger debates so that people will know what this is all about," Pimentel said.

Pangilinan, in a text message, said he signed the resolution "with reservations as to the mode/timing."

"The support is qualified. While I support the concept of federalism, I will only support charter change after 2010," Pangilinan stressed. On his second term as senator, Pangilinan’s tenure will end in 2013.

Senator Rodolfo Biazon said he agreed to be co-author of the resolution "if only to open debates on charter change." Biazon’s term as senator will expire on June 2010.

The resolution will require the revision of 14 of the existing 18 Articles of the Constitution and the addition of two new articles. It seeks to adopt a federal presidential bicameral form of government.

No to GMA beyond 2010

Specifically, it calls for the creation of 11 federal states out of the existing political subdivisions of the country and one federal administration region.

It seeks the transfer of the legislative department to the proposed Federal State of Central Visayas, the judicial department to the Federal State of Northern Luzon while maintaining the executive department in the proposed Federal Administrative Region of Metro Manila.

"By doing so the other geographical regions in the country, the Visayas and Mindanao, will now fully appreciate that they are important parts, and not merely appendices of the Republic," Pimentel said in a statement.

Other major proposals: the election of senators based on states; the election of senators representing overseas voters; the election of the president and the vice-president as a team; the abolition of the Judicial and Bar Council which screens nominees to the judiciary etc.

To ensure that the initiative would not be taken advantage of by President Arroyo to prolong her stay in power, a transitory provision is provided categorically stating that her term will end in 2010 and that she is not qualified to run for the same office under the Constitution.

More senators?

Pimentel said two-term senators like him will not benefit from the proposed charter amendment as the proposed draft states they are covered by a ban from seeking a third term.

He said two or three more senators are willing to support the initiative.

Asked if there is ample time to amend the Constitution before 2010, Pimentel admits that "realistically, it will be difficult."

A poll commissioner also doubts whether charter change can be pulled off before the 2010 presidential race. The commissioner notes that the proposed changes will still be submitted for ratification by the public.