Legislated amendment

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

After so much huffing and puffing against the controversial people’s initiative (PI), the questioned nationwide signature campaign to amend the country’s 1987 Constitution appears blown away to oblivion. Or so, it seems. That is, unless the Commission on Elections (Comelec) nails the last nail to the coffin, so to speak, to quash the submitted lists of PI signatures on petitions calling for Charter change (Cha-cha).  

Nonetheless, the rhetorics – almost vitriolic exchanges on Cha-cha have notably toned down a bit.

Following the suspension of submissions of PI signature petitions in their regional and provincial offices, the Comelec head office in Intramuros, Manila remains the official repository of the PI signed documents. In the meantime, as previously announced by Comelec Chairman George Garcia, the poll body will continue to entertain official requests of withdrawal of signatures, but none so far. 

After cantankerous quarrel over the PI signature drive, the feuding leaders and members of the 19th Congress are apparently been assuaged by the latest official declaration from Malacañang Palace. So much so that even the Comelec has obviously also acquiesced with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (PBBM) to hold a plebiscite for Cha-cha synchronized with the scheduled May 2025 mid-term elections. 

According to Garcia, the latest legal studies done by the Comelec Law department stated that both electoral exercises can be held at the same time. It was a complete turnaround from the initial stand of the Comelec against it.  

“If Congress will include that in the Resolution of Both Houses, Comelec will comply despite this issue whether or not the plebiscite can be done simultaneously with the national and local elections (in 2025),” Garcia pointed out.

“Operationally, we can do it…Personally, I have strong reservation but the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, as cited in the study, carries a lot of weight,” the Comelec chief explained. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino revealed the “4th mode” of Cha-cha is on track. In our Kapihan sa Manila Bay news forum last Wednesday, Tolentino explained the proposed Cha-cha amendment/s will go through Congress like ordinary legislation and voted upon separately by the Senate and the House of Representatives.

But unlike ordinary legislation passed into law, the proposed Cha-cha amendment by legislation will be voted upon by the people in a plebiscite. Tentatively called as the “constitutional assembly,” Tolentino recalled this mode was being espoused by Fr. Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution. 

“Congress, acting as constitutional assembly, we just don’t have yet the monicker, or the constitutional name for the 4th mode,” Tolentino quipped. 

Tolentino is toying with the idea to require the wearing of “robes” for the Senators and House members when in sessions together for Cha-cha deliberations “to give semblance of upscaled sessions.”

In fact, both chambers are practically doing it right now conducting their respective public hearings on the proposed Resolution of Both Houses (RHB) No. 6 on Cha-cha.

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments and revision of codes and its newly created Senate sub-committee earlier kicked off their own legislative process to tackle the highly contentious Cha-cha bills. The two committees chaired respectively by Sen. Robinhood Padilla and Sen. Sonny Angara initially took up the proposed RBH No. 6, principally authored by House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. 

The RBH No. 6 of Romualdez et. al. called for amendments of several economic provisions through the constitutional convention (con-con) mode. It proposed to amend the following economic provisions under Articles XII, XIV and XVI. It was approved with dispatch and transmitted to the Senate in March 2023 where it languished until the PI brouhaha revived it.

Senate president Juan Miguel Zubiri filed their counterpart version RBH No. 6 last January 15. The Senate’s version seeks to set the Cha-cha mode for “separate voting” by both Chambers, not like the constituent assembly (con-ass) requiring 3/4 votes together as one body.

The Senate’s RBH No. 6 proposed to amend existing economic provisions and specifically identified the lifting on the constitutional limits of 40 percent imposed on foreign ownership in education, public utilities and advertising. The Zubiri RBH No. 6 sprung up at the height of the PI scandals of various ayuda cash subsidy programs of the government allegedly paid out to entice, or lure people to sign up petitions calling for Cha-cha.

To apparently end once and for all suspicions of House-backed PI signature drive, several Congressmen filed last Feb. 19 their new version that practically cut-and-pasted the same provisions of Senate RBH No. 6. Authored principally by Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr., the Lower House convened as the Committee of the Whole to tackle RBH No. 7.

The Lower House immediately started last week its own Committee of the Whole public hearings on RBH No. 7 and scheduled their Cha-cha deliberations on its morning sessions every Monday-Wednesday-Friday and conduct their regular House sessions in the afternoon til evening.

But it would be jumping prematurely to say that the Cha-cha train is now running its course. Albeit, not yet in full speed.

Especially now that, once quiet on public comments about the Cha-cha, Senator Cynthia Villar finally broke her silence on the issue. She and son Sen. Mark Villar earlier signed a Senate Manifesto that unanimously rejected the PI as the third mode of Cha-cha when the first bursts of the signature campaign first cropped up.

Citing the business and investment community are not into amendments of the Constitution, Sen. Villar suggested for the government to address instead the more effective implementation of the anti-corruption laws and ease of doing business in the Philippines. She is the wife of former Senate president Manny Villar, dubbed as the country’s “brown taipan,” whose family-owned business empire and wealth landed him in the Forbes’ list of richest Filipinos. 

Like any other skeptics and cynics, she and six other Senators reportedly are not at all convinced by PBBM’s oft-repeated reassurances that he, too, supports only the amendments of economic provisions. But who isn’t? 

“Unless provided for by law,” or a legislated amendment might be the more acceptable 4th mode of Cha-cha.

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