Lawmakers to recall Cha-Cha resolution they approved in secret

Mara Cepeda
Lawmakers to recall Cha-Cha resolution they approved in secret
The House committee on constitutional amendments also plans to reopen public hearings after the executive branch submitted a new list of proposed changes to the charter

MANILA, Philippines – The House committee on constitutional amendments is recalling the resolution amending parts of the 1987 Constitution that it discreetly approved last year, now that the executive branch submitted a new list of proposed amendments to lawmakers. 

House committee on constitutional amendments chairperson Rufus Rodriguez said on Tuesday, January 21, that his panel would have to reopen public hearings on charter change as well.  (READ: What you need to know about Charter Change)

“So the committee report that we have approved which you complained to be secretive, to be very, very, [discreet because] it was not [done] in the presence of the media, that will be recalled because there is now a new entry of these proposals,” Rodriguez said in an ambush interview.

“And we believe these are also good proposals to study before we send these constitutional amendments to the Senate,” he added.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a briefing organized by the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Federalism and Constitutional Reform led by the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) to inform lawmakers and their staff about the executive branch’s proposed amendments to the Constitution.  

Because the IATF is a body composed of 11 member-agencies, Rodriguez said their proposed changes to the Constitution would carry more weight and should be carefully deliberated by his panel.

“This is now the DILG and not only that, the Inter-Agency [Task Force on Federalism and] Constitutional Reform is composed of about 11 departments! And this is something that we will always consider, considering that it involves the executive department and this is their proposal,” the Cagayan de Oro City 2nd District congressman said.

Last year, Rodriguez’s panel drew flak for approving in a closed-door meeting the still-unnumbered resolution of both houses (RBH) that would lift the restrictions on foreign investments and lengthen the terms of congressmen. (READ: Lawmaker seeks longer term for House members, but shorter term in Senate)

Senior Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate of the progressive Bayan Muna party-list  group said the move was an attempt to skirt the Constitution, which lists only 3 modes to amend it. These are: Congress convening itself into a Constituent Assembly, (Con-Ass) the people electing a Constitutional Convention, and the People’s Initiative, where Filipinos can directly propose changes in the charter.

Rodriguez said he planned to hold the public hearings from January to March. He then hoped the 18th Congress would convene into a Con-Ass by May. 

The House committee chair, however, is yet to discuss his proposed timeline to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, who has so far not listed charter change among the priorities of the lower chamber.

Amending the Constitution is also not a priority of senators, whom Rodriguez hoped would have an “open mind” about his panel’s proposals.

A shift to federalism – where the country would be divided into autonomous regions – was a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte. But in his 4th State of the Nation Address in July 2019, the President made no mention of charter change. Still, the Duterte government said it would continue pushing for federalism.

New provisions vs turncoatism, political dynasties

The IATF’s proposed amendments includes the so-called the Mandanas decision of the Supreme Court, which allowed the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of local government units to be sourced from all national taxes, and not just those collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. 

It also included strong provisions against turncoatism – when politicians easily switch from one party to another – and political dynasties. 

Found below are the executive branch’s proposed amendments which are not found in the House resolution:

  • Local government units and the Regional Development Authority shall have a “just share” in all national taxes as determined by law based on their financial needs, organizational capacities, and resources;
  • The Regional Development Council will be transformed into the Regional Development Authority, with the powers and funds to implement regional projects and programs without the approval of Manila;
  • Recognition of political parties as a democratic institution that should allow an active citizen participation and equal representation of women candidates in every election;
  • The State will regulate campaign finance, both from public and private sources, of all political parties and candidates in all elections;
  • Anti-turncoatism: Members of political parties will not be allowed to jump ship to another party during their term of office, as well as a year after the elections and a year before the next elections;
  • Anti-political dynasty: No person related to an incumbent elective official as a spouse, and within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity can run for the same position during the next elections. Persons that fall under the same relations will also not be allowed to simultaneously hold positions for governor and vice governor as well as mayor and vice mayor;
  • The President and the Vice President will be voted as a tandem.

In the previous 17th Congress, the House under then-speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, approved on 3rd reading RBH No. 15 that would have shifted the Philippines to a federal system of government.

RBH 15, however, was “dead on arrival” in the Senate. – 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.