Duterte's charter change group begins work

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 08 2018 12:00 PM | Updated as of Feb 08 2018 03:19 PM

MANILA - (UPDATED) The experts’ group headed by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno began preliminary meetings Thursday under a tight 6-month deadline to propose changes in the constitution.

Most, if not all, of the 19 members of what was supposed to be a 25-man consultative committee are known advocates of federalism, a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte.

But moves toward a shift have encountered strong opposition from some groups, including the framers of the 1987 Constitution, who fear federalism will further empower political dynasties.

Thursday’s closed-door gathering is more of a “getting-to-know meeting,” Puno told ABS-CBN News.

Many of the con-com members are familiar with each other’s work and advocacy, but are meeting for the first time.

ABS-CBN News learned that the Presidential Management Staff will serve as the group’s secretariat. But some members were pushing for the creation of its own.

Also in the meeting was Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, who arranged the con-com’s oath-taking before the President on Feb. 13. 

Puno said he preferred that the body submit a final report and not conduct “piecemeal” consultations with legislators.

“Matagal ho 'yun saka baka napakaraming diskusyon na mangyari. Parang mahirap yung piecemeal 'yung presentation,” he told ABS-CBN News.

(It will take a while because there might be a lot of discussions. A piecemeal presentation will be difficult.)

Committee eyes output before SONA

Efforts to draft a new federal constitution are also moving in both chambers of Congress, raising concerns that the Puno committee’s output might be rendered irrelevant.

“We’ll speed up the process,” Puno said, responding to Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III’s statement to ANC that the Senate would not “consciously wait” for the committee’s recommendations.

“Kung magagawa namin, within 6 months eh gagawin namin,” said Puno, whose group will hold office at the Philippine International Convention Center.

(If we can do it in 6 months, we ill do it.)

Puno said the body would be divided into different committees focusing on aspects such as the federal structure, states or regions, and the distribution of powers between the national and regional governments. 

A separate committee will look into the creation of a Bangsamoro state because of its “delicate” nature.

Former Senate President Aquilino "Nene" Pimentel Jr. said the consultative committee hoped to present its output to Duterte before his third State of the Nation Address in July.

Pimentel said the President will have time to review the group's output from July 10-15. After this, the committee will revise its report and submit it to Duterte on July 19, before the July 23 SONA.

All meetings of the consultative committee will be open to media so the public will better understand the issue, he said.