Ex-CBCP chief: Citizens, not Congress, should draft new charter

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 15 2018 08:23 PM

MANILA - A body composed of "citizens" instead of congressmen would be the preferable mode of revising the Constitution, Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas said. 

In a pastoral letter released on Monday, the former president of Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) warned his flock against "schemers" who would use charter change to serve their own agenda, like extending their term of office. 

This, according to the prelate, is the reason why a new charter must be crafted through a constitutional convention instead of the Congress sitting as a constituent assembly. 

"It would be preferable to have a constitutional convention, not necessarily of elected delegates but of citizens with sufficient civic spiritedness, familiarity with the law and with the constitution, committed to human rights, and to the defense of civil and political rights, who have the fear of God in their hearts, that should craft the revised Constitution," Villegas said in a pastoral letter released on Monday. 

Under the 1987 Constitution, the charter may be revised through: constitutional convention, which is a distinct body from the Congress and is composed of individuals who are either elected or appointed; or constitutional assembly, which is composed of all the members of the Senate and House of Representatives. 

The archbishop insisted that the framers of the Constitution must not only be known for their "probity and their intellectual acumen" but also be "free of vested interests."

"Be cunning as serpents but innocent as doves. We your pastors in Lingayen Dagupan are not unaware that reconfiguring the government may be used by the unprincipled as a pretext for the extension of their terms of office," the archbishop said.

Villegas is encouraging the faithful to be more discerning in order to make informed choices. 

"It is our moral duty to know the issues. It is also an obligation of believers to make choices for what is truly just, socially equitable and empowering." 

President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies have expressed preference for the two chambers of Congress to convene as a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution and effect a shift to a federal form of government. 

As early as now, a proposal removing the term limit for elected officials under the new Constitution is already being touted. 

Meanwhile, Senate President Koko Pimentel said extending Duterte's term is a possibility as it may be part of a 3-year transition period once an amended Constitution initiates a shift from a unitary to a federal form of government. 

For some minority lawmakers, a constitutional convention, though costly and would take more time, would leave no room in the people's minds to think that lawmakers have self-serving interests.