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Fresh push to change charter a ‘waste of time,’ likely to fail

OPPOSITION senators on Thursday thumbed down a fresh push at the House of Representatives to change the Constitution, saying it was likely to fail and waste lawmakers’ time.

“It will be a total waste of time,” Senator Franklin M. Drilon said in a statement. “It won’t fly. Our history tells us that charter change (cha-cha) has a zero chance of success in any administration that is already in the home stretch.”

Senator Francis N. Pangilinan, who heads the committee on constitutional amendments, said senators should discuss the matter in a caucus and plan their action.

“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,” he said in a separate statement.

“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,” Mr. Pangilinan said. “Is this the right time to talk about this?”

Charter change is the last thing on President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s mind, his spokesman Harry L. Roque told an online news briefing.

He said the President would rather focus on battling the coronavirus pandemic before his  term ends in 2022. Mr. Duterte took office in 2016 and is barred by law from running for reelection.

House leaders met on Wednesday to revive a push to change the Constitution, including easing  foreign ownership limits.

Party-list Rep. Alfredo A. Garbin, the newly elected chairman of the committee on constitutional amendments, said he met with Speaker Lord Allan Q. Velasco and several House leaders to discuss the upcoming charter change (cha-cha) hearings.

Mr. Garbin said the Speaker had asked him to begin as “early as next week” the hearings, where plans to relax economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution would be discussed. Mr. Garbin said the committee deliberations would start before sessions resume on Jan. 18.

Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said charter amendments would have a better chance of hurdling the chamber if these are limited to changing the party-list system and easing economic restrictions, including foreign ownership limits.

“Charter change is too tight and almost impossible,” he told an online news briefing in Filipino. “Amending one or two points of the charter will have better chances.”

Mr. Sotto said the President at a November meeting had asked lawmakers to do away with the party-list system because it was supposedly being used by Maoist rebels.

Senators Francis N. Tolentino and Ronald M. dela Rosa on Dec. 7 filed a resolution seeking to convene the 18th Congress as a constituent assembly to change the 1987 Constitution.

Mr. Sotto said senators have yet to reach a consensus on the matter.

“Cha-cha is a highly divisive issue,” Party-list Rep. Michael T. Defensor said in a statement. “It will sap the nation’s attention, resources, logistics and manpower, which will all be diverted to this untimely effort.”

There are at least eight measures at the House seeking to amend the Constitution, including a resolution filed by Mr. Velasco.

Mr. Defensor said the public might accuse legislators of being “insensitive to their suffering and even arrogant” if they tackle charter change now.

“Cha-cha is not the solution to the pandemic and economic hardship our people have to grapple with every day,” he said. “I am for it, but the question is timing, and today, while we are still battling the COVID-19 pandemic and not achieving much success, is not the right time.”

Party-list Rep. Michael Edgar Y. Aglipay, one of the House leaders involved in the preparation for Cha-cha hearings, said the Speaker had ordered them to “just focus on purely economic provisions.”

Lawmakers won’t seek to change political provisions of the Constitution, he said by telephone. “He guarantees this by involving the Senate as voting separately.”

Mr. Aglipay said they want to form the constituent assembly by the end of the month. A plebiscite for proposed changes could coincide with the presidential elections in May 2022, he added.

Mr. Garbin earlier said restrictive economic provisions hamper the flow of foreign investments, which the country needs to recover from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the changes to the economic provisions of the 33-year old Constitution would be based on the resolutions filed by Mr. Velasco in 2018. — Charmaine A. Tadalan, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Gillian M. Cortez

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