Congress to prioritize 2017 budget before Con-Ass

Mara Cepeda
Congress to prioritize 2017 budget before Con-Ass
House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez says he has no problem with senators' interpretation that both chambers would have to vote separately to amend the Constitution

MANILA, Philippines – The 17th Congress plans to pass the 2017 budget this year before focusing on discussions about the Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) by January 2017.

This was the assurance made by House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez after meeting with some leaders of both the Senate and the House of Representatives at the EDSA Shangri-La hotel in Mandaluyong City on Tuesday, August 9.

Well definitely, between now and maybe end of November, unahin talaga namin ‘yung deliberation on budget natin for 2017. So after that, by January, puwede nating pag-usapan, both Houses, puwede na naming talakayin ‘yung revision ng ating Constitution,” said Alvarez.

(Well definitely, between now and maybe end of November, we’ll prioritize the deliberation of our 2017 budget. So after that, both Houses can already discuss the revision of the Constitution by January.)

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III added that the lawmakers can already begin preparing to a shift to federalism while budget deliberations are ongoing. 

Oo pero in our private time, basa-basa na kami ng mga Constitution para ready na kami kung anong mangyari,” said Pimentel.

(Yes but in our private time, we can read up on other Constitutions so we’ll be ready whatever happens.)

The Department of Budget and Management earlier said that it will pass its proposed P3.35-trillion budget to Congress by August 15.  

Alvarez and Pimentel spearheaded the first of a series of meetings between both Houses as they gear up to amend the 1987 Constitution through a Con-Ass, President Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred Charter Change mode.

Present in the meeting were House Majority Leader Rudy Fariñas, Senate Majority Leader Tito Sotto, Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto, and senators JV Ejercito and Loren Legarda.


 

In a Con-Ass, sitting lawmakers turn themselves into a body to amend the Constitution “upon a vote of 3/4 of all its members.”  

Pimentel said on Tuesday that senators interpret this to mean as the House and Senate voting separately.

“But I might as well tell you the senators’ interpretation of the constitutional provision found sa Constitution natin (in our Constitution), Article 17 on amendments sa Constitution (in the Constitution). The senators’ interpretation is if Congress is to propose amendments or revision of the Constitution, the voting must be done separately,” said Pimentel.

Senators earlier expressed this preference because they do not want to dilute the voice of the 24 senators against that of the 293 representatives.

While no final decision was reached on Tuesday, Alvarez said adopting the Senate’s interpretation will not be a problem for the House of Representatives. 

More or less dapat magkasundo kami. Basta magkasundo kami, okay na ‘yun. Whether voting separately or jointly, magkakasundo kami,” said Alvarez.

(More or less, we should agree. As long as we agree, that’s okay. Whether voting separately or jointly, we’ll have consensus.)

Leaders of the House and Senate plan to regularly meet to flesh out their plans for the Con-Ass and pave the way for federalism, which Duterte believes would decentralize power and wealth from “imperial” Manila. 

Some lawmakers and analysts, however, warned against revising the Constitution through a Con-Ass because they are doubting the ability and credibility of Congress to amend the Charter truthfully and without sacrificing legislation.   

Duterte has since defended the Con-Ass, saying he would close down Congress if they ruin the Constitution. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.