MANILA - Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Thursday said a resolution to convene Congress as a constituent assembly was filed after President Rodrigo Duterte asked lawmakers to amend or abolish the party-list system in the Constitution.
The intention was never to extend term limits, Sotto told reporters in an online press conference, noting that the President suggested amending or abolishing the party-list law during a meeting with lawmakers "2 months ago."
"Sinabi niya (Duterte said), 'I want this problem of the CPP-NPA solved and the best way is we remove the party-list system or change it in the constitution,'" Sotto said, referring to the President's statement during a meeting with lawmakers in Malacañang.
"'Samantalahin niyo na, you can amend the economic provisions,'" he said, quoting the President.
(To make the most out of it, you can amend the economic provisions.)
Under the 1987 Constitution, "party-list representatives shall constitute 20 percent of the total number of representatives" in the House.
Party-list groups are supposed to represent "the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors," but analysts noted that the system is now being used by political dynasties to have more relatives occupy seats in government.
Duterte has also repeatedly accused several party-list groups of being fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing the New People's Army (NPA), but representatives from the Makabayan bloc in the House have denied the allegations.
"Nabanggit lang ng Presidente na (The President just mentioned that), 'I hope you will be able to solve this problem of the party-list. I hope I don't need to use military action," Sotto said.
"A week or two after, Senators Tolentino and Dela Rosa filed a resolution," he said.
Dela Rosa and Tolentino's resolution seeking to convene Congress as a constituent assembly did not directly mention the abolition or amendment of constitutional provisions on party-list groups, but noted that lawmakers should introduce "meaningful reforms reinforcing not only economic growth and development but also more pragmatic democratic representation."
"I do not have yet a consensus on whether majority of the Senate would vote for that," he said.
"There are members who will say na dangerous to open [ang Constitution] suddenly dahil baka may ibang agenda na ipasok," he said.
(There are members who will say that it is dangerous to suddenly open the Constitution because other agendas might be inserted.)
If majority of senators will not agree with tinkering with the Constitution, Congress can just amend the party-list law, the Senate President said.
"Amend the law. Limit it to talagang (those who are really) marginalized," he said.
"May nag-suggest na kapag ikaw ay nilalaban mo na ibagsak ang gobyerno, dapat disqualified ka. Kung gusto mong ibagsak ang gobyerno, dapat hindi puwede party niyo," he said.
(Someone suggested that those who are looking to topple the government should be disqualified. If you want to destabilize the government, that group should not be qualified as a party-list.)
Sotto said he prefers to just amend the law instead of convening Congress as a constituent assembly.
"I've always had apprehensions when it comes to Cha-Cha as in charter change. Mas naniniwala ako na ang kailangan natin ay [ibang] cha-cha, character change," he said.
(I believe what we need is a different kind of cha-cha, character change.)
"But I live by consensus so I will leave it to the members of the majority kung ano ang napupusuan nila (to decide on their own). They have their opinion, I have mine," he said.