House panel votes: Amend charter through Constituent Assembly

Mara Cepeda

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House panel votes: Amend charter through Constituent Assembly
(UPDATED) The House constitutional amendments will create a report on the resolution to have it approved at the plenary

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The House committee on constitutional amendments voted in favor of the 17th Congress turning itself into a Constituent Assembly to amend the 1987 Constitution, in a move toward the shift to a federal system of government.

During the committee hearing on Wednesday, October 19, Deputy Speaker Gwendolyn Garcia moved for the panel to approve her concurrent resolution calling both the House of Representatives and the Senate to convene as a Constituent Assembly.

The concurrent resolution got the nod of 32 lawmakers through nominal voting, while 7 congressmen were against it. Only 3 members of the House panel abstained from voting.

Through a Constituent Assembly, the incumbent Congress turns 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.

Southern Leyte Representative Roger Mercado, committee chairperson, initially moved to conduct a viva voce vote to decide on Garcia’s resolution.

This was opposed by Senior Deputy Minority Leader Lito Atienza, saying: “It’s not a question of ayes and nays.”

Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas, who is set to replace Mercado as committee chairperson, then instructed a second round of nominal voting, with lawmakers standing up to declare their vote.

The House constitutional amendments is now set to create a committee report on the resolution to have it approved at the plenary, wherein the other members of the House of Representatives may decide to accept or reject the resolution.

Voted in favor Voted against Abstained

1. Harlin Abayon III

2. Alfredo Benitez

3. John Bertiz

4. Lianda Bolilia

5. Fredenil Castro

6. Manuel Jose Dalipe

7. Ana Cristina Go

8. Edward Maceda

9. Corazon Nuñez-Malayon

10. Edwin Ong

11. Johnny Pimentel

12. Cesar Sarmiento

13. Lorn Allan Velasco

14. Tricia Velasco-Catera

15. Vicente Veloso

16. Eric Singson

17. Raneo Abu

18. Mylene Garcia-Albano

19. Gwendolyn Garcia

20. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

21. Ferdinand Hernandez

22. Frederick Abueg

23. Rodolfo Fariñas

24. Juan Pablo Bondoc

25. Arthur Defensor

26. Ann Hofer

27. Vincent Crisologo

28. Aurelio Gonzales Jr

29. Victoria Noel

30. Gerald Gullas Jr

31. Arnel Ty

32. Luis Campos

1. Henedina Abad

2. Kaka Bag-ao

3. Laurence Fortun

4. Ruwel Gonzaga

5. Virgilio Lacson

6. Mariano Velarde

7. Lito Atienza

1. Alfredo Garbin

2. Eugene De Vera

3. Anthony Bravo

A Constituent Assembly is the preferred charter change mode of President Rodrigo Duterte, who had long been championing a shift to federalism. (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? The pros and cons of federalism)

According to the President, a Constituent Assembly would be cheaper and faster compared to a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) or a People’s Initiative, the other two ways the 1987 Constitution may be amended.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez earlier said the Duterte administration wants to ratify the new Constitution by the 2019 midterm elections.

The period between 2019 to 2022, the end of Duterte’s term as president, will then serve as the transition period to a federal system.

Under federalism, the country will be divided into autonomous regions or states, with the national government left to take care of matters with nationwide bearing like foreign policy and national security.

Some lawmakers and analysts, however, have opposed a Constituent Assembly, saying Congress members cannot be trusted to change the Constitution without putting their self-interests ahead of the nation’s.

As a response to criticisms, plans are now underway for the creation of a Constitutional Commission, a group of experts and constitutionalists who will be tasked to help the Constituent Assembly amend the charter.

Dissenters prefer Con-Con

Some of those who voted against Constituent Assembly briefly explained their vote.  

Batanes Representative Henedina Abad and Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao both prefer a Con-Con, a body of representatives that is distinct from the incumbent Congress.

The delegates are usually elected through popular vote, but they may be appointed as well. Congress decides on the details of delegates’ qualifications, election or appointment, rules of procedure, and operational budget.

Bag-ao said a Con-Con is the “most democratic and most representative process” to amend the charter.

“It would provide an opportunity for our citizens to directly select their representatives to this very critical task. It would allow a more balanced representation across all sectors, across all geographic demarcations,” she said.

Abad shared her sentiments.

Sa lawak at lalim at sa selan ng mga usaping ito, kailangan po hindi lamang tayo ang nag-uusap. Kung hindi, kasama ang mga batayang sektor at iba pang mga mahahalagang sektor ng ating lipunan,” she said. 

(Because of the wide scope, depth, and sensitivity of this discussion, we are not supposed to be the only ones talking about it. The concerned sectors of society should also be included.)

Buhay Representative Atienza thinks that lawmakers convening as a Constituent Assembly would also be a “breach” of the people’s trust bestowed upon them. 

“We were all elected as congressmen of the districts. Not one of us in this committee nor in the plenary have promised that, if elected, I would revise the Constitution. Therefore, this is a serious breach of our contract with the electorate to send us here today to deliberate on laws. [We were not sent here] to tinker with the Constitution,” he said.

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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 or tweet @maracepeda.