Duterte: I’ll close Congress if Con-Ass ruins Charter

Pia Ranada
Duterte: I’ll close Congress if Con-Ass ruins Charter
President Rodrigo Duterte tells critics of a Constituent Assembly that he is their last line of defense against a bastardized Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has renewed his threat to shut down Congress, this time, if it bungles in drafting a new Constitution once it is convened into a Constituent Assembly.

“You do it properly. Huwag mo lokohin ang tao. ‘Pag pinilit ‘nyo ‘yan, sarado kayo lahat (Don’t fool the people. If you force it, I will shut you down),” Duterte said on Wednesday evening, August 3, during the courtesy call of election volunteers in Malacañang Palace.

In typical Duterte fashion, he issued the threat in a humorous way, leaving his audience to wonder whether or not it was just a joke.

His warning began with his defense of his preference for a Constituent Assembly instead of a Constitutional Convention as the body to amend the 1987 Constitution.

Charter Change would pave the way for the country’s shift to a federalist form of government, one of Duterte’s main campaign promises.

But critics of Con-Ass say this mode of Charter Change could be easily abused by the incumbent lawmakers who would form the body. (READ: The problem with Con-Ass? Distrust of Congress)

Duterte said such abuse would never happen because lawmakers, especially those reelected for several terms, most likely have the trust of the people. If all else fails, he himself would be the last line of defense against a bastardized Constitution.

“I will never ever allow [it]. Sabihin ko talaga, ‘Huwag ‘yan kasi ‘pag pinilit niyo ‘yan sasarhan ko Congress. Huhulihin ko kayong lahat.’ Mamili kayo. Totoo,” said Duterte.

(I’ll really say, ‘Don’t do it because if you force it, I’ll close Congress. I’ll catch all of you.’ Choose. It’s true.)

Some of Duterte’s successors – former presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – had pushed for constitutional amendments but later abandoned the proposal after failing to muster public support.

A Constituent Assembly is one of the 3 modes to amend the 1987 Constitution. The other two are Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) and People’s Initiative. A Constituent Assembly is the incumbent Congress turning itself into a body that amends the Constitution “upon a vote of 3/4 of all its members.”

Amendments passed by a Constituent Assembly are finalized once a majority of registered voters support them through a plebiscite.

Duterte earlier preferred to call for a Con-Con, wherein a body separate from sitting legislators are either elected through popular vote or appointed to make the amendments. (READ: Senators divided on Con-Con, Constituent Assembly)

But Duterte said a Con-Con would be too expensive, possibly costing the government P10 billion, “but if they tarry, P30 billion to P50 billion.”

This is not the first time he threatened to close down Congress. During the campaign season, he said he would do the same thing if lawmakers insist on continuing the controversial pork barrel system.

In the system, lawmakers are given discretion over specially-allocated Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). But Senate investigations showed the system was abused.

Lawmakers, some of whom were re-elected ones, were accused of channelling their PDAF into fake non-governmental organizations and enjoying kickbacks in the process.

Duterte had also said in August last year that if he won the presidency, he would declare a revolutionary government to pave the way for federalism. 

The late strongman Ferdinand Marcos dissolved Congress when he declared martial law in 1972 and suspended the 1935 Constitution.

Following Marcos’ ouster in 1986, then president Corazon Aquino formed a revolutionary government. She scrapped the 1973 Constitution, and exercised both executive and legislative powers until the 1987 Constitution was ratified and the new Congress was set up. – Rappler.comestbal

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.