House adopts resolution to convene as con-ass to amend charter

Rg Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 16 2018 06:40 PM | Updated as of Jan 17 2018 03:10 AM

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(UPDATED) The House of Representatives has adopted a resolution to convene as a constituent assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution.

The adoption came amid loud objections by Makabayan bloc lawmakers ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio and Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao.

They initially objected to end all interpellations on the proposal but House Senior Deputy Majority Leader Rimpy Bondoc countered that there have been enough speakers under the House rules so debates could be terminated any time. 

Under House rules, Section 54. Motion to Close Debate: "A motion to close the debate on a measure shall be in order after three (3) speeches in favor and two (2) against, or after only one (1) speech in favor and none against: Provided, that within the last fifteen (15) days before adjournment, a motion to close debate on a measure shall be in order after two (2) speeches in favor and one (1) against, or after only one (1) speech in favor and none against. 

While Section 55. Cloture states that: "When a matter under consideration has been sufficiently discussed by a Member who has the floor and there are several Members who have signified their intention to speak on the same matter, the Speaker may, motu proprio or upon motion of a Member, order the Member having the floor to desist from speaking further so that other Members may be given the opportunity to speak."

It now remains to be seen how the Senate will respond to this development. A constituent assembly comprises all the members of the Senate and House, under the 1987 Constitution. 

Earlier in the day, the House Committee on Constitutional Amendments threshed out the agenda of the assembly, which is the proposed revisions to the constitution hammered out by the sub committees of that committee.

Among the proposals presented by the committee were:

- a shift to a federal parliamentary form of government.

- legislative power to be vested in a Federal Assembly as the National Legislative Department and the Senate as the legislative body representative of the regions.

- the Assembly shall have not more than 300 members. 80% of the members of the assembly shall be elected by plurality votes where each single member legislative electoral district shall have one seat in the assembly. the remaining 20% shall be elected through a party list system of registered federal or regional sectoral parties or organizations. they shall represent the marginalized sectors to include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers and seafarers.

- each state shall have a minimum of 3 seats in the senate. the senators receiving the 3 highest number of direct votes by registered voters in a region shall represent their region in the senate; Chairman Roger Mercado proposes to retain 24 senators elected nationally plus the senators elected by regions.

- the federal assembly shall elect its speaker and the senate its president by a majority vote of all its respective members.

- the President shall be the head of state, elected by direct vote for a 5 year term with one re-election

- powers of the president: oversight over all branches of government (legislative, executive, judiciary, constitutional bodies, independent bodies, departments, agencies and offices of the government); head of international relations and foreign affairs, commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), appointing power, pardoning power, residual power, enter into treaties, appoint members of the judiciary, constitutional bodies, ADP, Foreign Affairs officials, address the parliament on the SONA, proclaim the Prime Minister

- the Prime Minister will be the head of government. 

The committee also included the following transitory provisions: 

- first election will be 2nd Monday of May 2022

- following the adoption of the Constitution, the present Congress will be dissolved, the Senate and House will be replaced by an interim parliament. 

- the interim Prime Minister shall be elected by a majority vote of the parliament. He shall be a member of the cabinet

- the incumbent President shall exercise all powers and functions of head of state and government under this federal constitution until the election of the next president and prime minister in May 2022

- the first regular elections for president will be on the 2nd Monday of May 2022 and shall be elected by direct vote of the people for five years. The vice president will continue until 2022

'Responsible exercise of the freedom of speech' 

The committee also proposes to amend the bill of rights to read: "No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression or of the press or of the right of the people to peaceably assembly and petition the government for redress of grievances."

According to Deputy Speaker Fredenil Castro, the phrase should be inserted to avoid abuse.

"This time if you go around, there is so much abuse of this freedom. They think it's is unrestrained, therefore we propose the insertion of that phrase," he said.

The following amendments were also proposed:

- remove the judicial power to determine grave abuse of discretion

- create a regional court of appeals in the 5 proposed regions

- deletion of the Judicial and Bar Council 

- power to nominate members of the judiciary shall be vested upon the prime minister and with the consent of the Commission on Appointments

- retirement age of members of the Supreme Court from 70 to 65

- creation of a constitutional court which shall have exclusive jurisdiction over constitutionalities of treaties, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation, electoral protests which were under the jurisdiction of the parliament electoral tribunal, disputes between the federal and state government, between and among state governments and disputes between the states and local government units

- power of the federal election commissions to investigate and prosecute election related crimes is repealed and vested in the Department of Justices, remove quasi judicial functions of the Comelec, including the Commission on Human Rights as a constitutional commission

- deletion of the current 60-40 limit on foreign investments in the areas of exploitation, development and utilization of natural resources, ownership of alienable lands, franchises on public utilities, practice of profession, ownership of educational institutions, mass media and advertising.

Likewise, The House proposes to “delete” love in the 1987 Constitution.

This is one of the proposed revisions to the 1987 constitution currently being discussed in the House.

The proposals were hammered out by different subcommittees over the mother committee which were assigned to work on specific provisions of the charter.

Vice Chair Corazon Nunez Malanyaon led the sub-committee on the executive and legislative, new article on federal and regional powers, number of states, local government and taxation, allocation of resources.

Vice Chair and Ceputy Speaker Fredenil Castro led the sub-committee on the judiciary, constitutional commissions, amendments or revisions, suffrage,citizenship, bill of rights, new article on the bill of duties.

Representative Albee Benitez, on the other hand, led the sub-committee that amended the preamble, national territory, declaration of principles and state policies, general provisions and transitory provisions.

Vice Chair Vicente Veloso led the sub-committee that amended the provisions on social justice, education science and others, national patrimony and economy, accountability of public officers and the family.

All of the sub-committees, except for Benitez’s was able to present their outputs in the mother committee hearing Tuesday. 

Copies of the Benitez sub-committee's output were released to House media. The mother committee is finishing which items will be presented to the full constituent assembly for approval.

Meanwhile, House Committee on Constitutional Amendments Chair Roger Mercado conceded President Rodrigo Duterte can run again for President under the proposed new constitution of the Philippines. 

Mercado’s panel is now preparing the charter amendments that will be subjected to a planned constituent assembly and ratification by the public in a plebiscite.

"Pwede pa kasi first term pa siya ngayon kung in accordance with the Constitution," Mercado said, referring to Duterte.

Mercado, however, doubted that the President will avail of the possibility. 

"Pero talagang sinsero siya na pagbigyan lang siya sa federal form of government kasi so many things will be achieved like the problem in Mindanao, 'di na raw siya tatakbo pag ma-approve na itong Constitution aalis na siya sa Malacañang, under the new Constitution we provided for a 5-year term with one reelection," he explained.

In an attempt to stave off allegations of perpetuating themselves in office, lawmakers are willing to still have the May 2019 elections but under the new federal constitution which they hope a planned constituent assembly will approve.

"As much as possible we can implement the transition period without affecting the 2019 elections… if we will be able to have this new federal constitution approved by our people in a plebiscite and referendum by may 2018 the 2019 will still be governed by the new federal constitution," Mercado said.

Should that be the case, Mercado explained that in the 2019 elections, voters will be electing 12 senators at large and 3 per region. Incumbent senators whose terms expire in 2022 as they were elected in 2016 will still be part of the new Senate.

Mercado explained that under their proposal, the Senate will remain since the legislature will still have 2 chambers—the senate and new federal assembly.

"There will be still 2 bicameral legislature. bicameral pa rin meron pa ring Senate and House pero parliamentary na," Mercado said.

However, Mercado admitted the new constitution will vest the new federal assembly with more powers than the new senate, since the Prime Minister will be elected by the new assembly. 

Mercado doesn't think the short span of time in their proposed time table is a problem. 

Earlier in the hearing of his committee, Benitez pointed out that the assembly must approve a new constitution by March to still comply with the current constitution’s timelines for approving amendments. 

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin believes the process is being railroaded. 

Mercado had previously walked back talk of term extensions, stating that they are amenable to still holding the May 2019 elections as scheduled under the new constitution.

Meanwhile, Mercado said the new constitution would abolish the Office of the Vice President although the transitory provisions will allow the incumbent to finish her term in 2022.

The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments on Tuesday began hearing proposals for the shift from a unitary to a federal form of government.

The shift to federalism is among President Duterte's key campaign promises.