MANILA — Vice President Leni Robredo's office said on Thursday that the government should first secure a supply of COVID-19 vaccines before "wasting" resources on the push of President Rodrigo Duterte's allies for charter change.
Duterte's allies, Senators Francis Tolentino and Ronald Dela Rosa, have filed a resolution for both houses of Congress to convene as a Constituent Assembly and discuss limited amendments to the Constitution, specifically provisions on democratic representation and economy.
"It's amazing that even as we continue to struggle with COVID-19, lost jobs, and a shrinking economy, we have 'leaders' who still find ways to waste our people's time and money," said Barry Gutierrez, spokesman of the Office of the Vice President (OVP).
"Pwede bang tiyakin muna natin na magkakabakuna ang bawat Pilipino bago mag aksaya na naman ng oras diyan sa ChaCha?" he said in a statement.
(Can we make sure first that there will be vaccines for every Filipino before wasting time again on ChaCha?)
The government, with the help of local firms, has secured 2.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from British drugs group AstraZeneca. Another order for at least 3.7 million doses is close to being finalized.
The country's drug regulator has so far not yet approved a vaccine for local use.
Malacañang has denied that Duterte's allies want to change the constitutional term limit of officials, which would allow the president to stay in power beyond the end term of his term in June 2022.
"Tsismis lang po 'yan," said Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque.
"The President has made it clear, wala po s'yang kahit anong kagustuhan na manatili ng isang minuto man lang beyond his term of office on June 30 of 2022," he told reporters in an online briefing.
(That is just a rumor. The President has made it clear, he does not have any desire to stay in power for even a minute beyond his term of office on June 30 of 2022.)
Some members of the House of Representatives met Wednesday and agreed to resume hearings on the charter change, focusing supposedly on the amendments to certain economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution as proposed in a resolution filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco in July 2019.
Tolentino and Dela Rosa's resolution, filed last month, stated that "against the backdrop mounting economic and health concerns brought about by the pandemic, it is important to ensure that the subsequent national policies and strategies for the revhabilaiton of our nation be responsive to the needs of our people in order to bring about genuine economic growth and sustainable development."
Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chair of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, will request his colleagues to discuss the treatment of the resolution through a caucus.
“As was our approach in the previous Congress, it would be best if the matter be tackled and discussed first in an all Senators Caucus wherein a consensus as to how to move forward hopefully can be reached,” Pangilinan said.
“Among the issues that can be discussed in the caucus would be the timing of charter amendments considering that the country is facing the worst economic and health crisis in recent memory," he said.
"Ngayon ba ang tamang panahon para pagusapan ito? In addition is the matter of Congress voting jointly or separately in proposing charter amendments.”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson had said that "without the certainty that both chambers of Congress will be voting separately, which there is none due to the vagueness of that particular provision in the 1987 Constitution, and only the Supreme Court can make such interpretation", attempts to amend the charter is "like taking one big step into a mousetrap, or even a quicksand for that matter."
- with reports from Sherrie Ann Torres and Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News