17th Congress to convene as Con-Ass by 2018, says Alvarez

MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said the 17th Congress will be convening as a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) next year to draft amendments to the 1987 Constitution to pave the way for federalism. 

Alvarez said in a press conference on Tuesday, May 16, that movement for federalism is currently stalled at Malacañang, which has yet to name appointees to the 25-member consultative body tasked to review the Constitution.

"Ewan ko. Medyo marami lang talaga siguro ginagawa ang Malacañang. But definitely, 'pag hindi 'yan siya nangyari this year, definitely, with or without the [committee], by next year, uumpisahan ng Kongreso 'yan," said the Davao del Norte 1st District representative.

(I'm not sure. Maybe Malacañang is just doing a lot of things right now. But definitely, if it will not happen this year, definitely, with or without the committee, Congress will start it by next year.)

President Rodrigo Duterte has long been championing a shift to federalism, where the country will be divided into autonomous states that will be responsible for their own laws, budgets, infrastructure, and education, among others. (READ: How many states should PH have under federalism?

The national government will be left to handle issues that have an impact on the entire country, like national security and foreign policy.

Advocates of federalism, like Duterte and Alvarez, have argued that it will decentralize power and wealth away from "Imperial Manila" and further improve the provinces. (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? The pros and cons of federalism)

There are 3 modes by which the 1987 Constitution may be amended, one of which is the Con-Ass. Under it, Congress turns itself into a body that amends the Constitution "upon a vote of 3/4 of all its members." 

Amendments passed by a Con-Ass are finalized once a majority of registered voters support them through a plebiscite.

The House committee on constitutional amendments already agreed to amend the charter through the Con-Ass, but senators remain divided on the matter.

Some senators continue to debate whether the two chambers would vote jointly or separately under a Con-Ass. (READ: Congress 2017: Bleak prospects for shift to federalism

Several lawmakers and political analysts warned against a Con-Ass, saying legislators cannot be trusted to make constitutional amendments without putting their own interests ahead of the country's welfare. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.