Constituent Assembly reason behind Suarez’s minority leadership?

MANILA, Philippines – Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman claimed that President Rodrigo Duterte’s new preference for a Constituent Assembly to shift to federalism is the reason behind the House supermajority’s “obsession” with controlling the minority bloc.  

“Why the obsession of controlling the House minority after forging a supermajority? One of the principal reasons is out of the bag,” said Lagman on Friday, July 29.  

“Only one day after the selection of the majority’s ‘minority leader,’ the leadership of the majority coalition has opted to convert the Congress into a Constituent Assembly to propose amendments to the Constitution,” he said, referring to newly-elected House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez.

Duterte earlier said he wants to a call a Constitutional Convention, a body separate from Congress elected through popular vote or through appointees, to shift to a federal system. (READ: How many states should PH have under federalism?

But House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez said on Thursday, July 28, that the President now prefers to shift to federalism via a Constituent Assembly, where amendments are decided upon by 3/4 of the members of both the Senate and the House of Representatives. (READ: Lawmakers warns vs abuse of power under Constituent Assembly)

“The numerical ascendancy of the new administration’s allies in both the Senate and the House makes the Congress, acting as a constituent assembly, a convenient launching pad for federalism, more than the projected constitutional convention which may not be easy to control,” said Lagman.

He was among the 8 congressmen who opposed Suarez’s minority leadership, saying the supermajority is attempting to control both blocs in the House.  

Lagman’s group has since decided to call themselves the “legitimate and authentic minority”.

Fastest route to charter change

Suarez himself is supporting the Constituent Assembly, agreeing with the supermajority that it is the “fastest and the cheapest” vehicle to achieve charter change. 

But he told Rappler that the minority bloc would insist on provisions that would deter abuse of power in the Constituent Assembly. 

‘Di mo maiiwasan na (You can’t avoid that) we’ll be the subject of suspicion that will amend the Constitution to benefit ourselves. There must be some rules that will be part and parcel that will combat any attempt of those who will craft it (amendments) to their advantage,” said Suarez. 

“It shouldn’t be benefitting the political agenda of those who will craft it,” he said. 

He added that Duterte, who enjoys a 91% trust rating, would not opt for a Constituent Assembly if he does not see that Filipinos trust Congress.  

Whims of the minority

As for Lagman’s accusation, Suarez said: “Ang sa akin lang e kailangan ‘yung naninira sa akin can (For me, my detractors should be able to) face the mirror and look at themselves. Before you accuse me, look at yourself.” 

House Majority Floor Leader Rudy Fariñas also called Lagman’s accusation as “self-serving.” 

“All I could say regarding ‘obsession’ to allegedly control the minority is [that it is] a self-serving statement since last time I checked, ours is a democratic government where the will of the majority is followed, not the whims or caprices of the minority,” said Fariñas, who leads the 251 members of the House supermajority bloc.

Lagman had earlier warned against a “subservient” minority bloc under Suarez that, he also said, is in cahoots with the supermajority. Suarez and Fariñas have since denied this.

Lagman and Suarez had their share of political conflict in the past.

In the 15th Congress, Lagman served as House Minority Leader from 2010 to 2012. It was agreed that he would share the position with his then-deputy minority leader Suarez.

Lagman initially protested giving way to Suarez at the end of 2011, but the latter managed to become House Minority Leader from 2012 to 2013. – 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.

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