Not a priority? House to focus on budget, pandemic response before Cha-Cha – Cayetano

If Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is to be believed, amending the 1987 Constitution won’t be in the House agenda until early 2021 once the country is estimated to have started recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cayetano did not list charter change when asked during a CNN Philippines’ The Source interview on Friday, July 24, what the House’s priorities will be when the 18th Congress reopens session on Monday, July 27.

“It’s right for people to question the timing… So definitely anything controversial, kung mapag-uusapan pero hindi muna front and center, it’s better for us... So if ma-solve next month ‘yong COVID and we’re up on our feet next January, February, then we can talk about Cha-Cha,” Cayetano said. 

(It's right for people to question the timing. So definitely anything that's controversial, it's better for us if we don't talk about it front and center. So if COVID-19 is solved next month and we're up on our feet next January, February, then we can talk about Cha-Cha.)

The Speaker listed 3 main priorities for the House in the coming months: the passage of the proposed COVID-19 response and recovery plan called Bayanihan to Recover As One Act, scrutiny of the 2021 national budget, and passing stimulus packages aimed at helping Filipinos get back on their feet after the pandemic. 

When The Source anchor Pinky Webb pointed out that Cayetano did not mention charter change, the Speaker reiterated it may not be the right time to do so since the country is still grappling with the pandemic.

The Speaker's timeline is different from that of House committee on constitutional amendments chairperson Rufus Rodriguez, who said they will soon start hearing the charter change proposal of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP). 

The LMP wants to lift restrictions on foreign investments and allow local governments to source funds from taxes besides those collected by the Bureau of Internal Revenue to help the country bounce back from COVID-19.

Cayetano earlier said that while there is “no doubt charter change is needed,” it must be done when people are no longer afraid to go out of their homes.

There are 3 ways to amend the Constitution: through a Constitutional Convention, Constituent Assembly, and People’s Initiative. A proposed constitutional amendment would only become valid if Filipino voters approve it during a plebiscite.

For now, the Speaker said the House can instead review the Internal Revenue Allotment for 3rd, 4th, and 5th class municipalities that are in need of more funds.

Senators remain strongly opposed to charter change, however. An attempt at charter change in 2018 fizzled out largely due to opposition from the Senate

A shift to federalism – where the country would be divided into autonomous regions – was a campaign promise of President Rodrigo Duterte, who counts the Speaker among his loyal allies. 

But it remains to be seen if the House would really push back charter change.

The controversial anti-terror law was not even in the House agenda for months, with Cayetano constantly saying they must pass pandemic response-related bills first.

But when Duterte certified the anti-terror bill as urgent, the Cayetano-led House railroaded its passage despite warnings it would be used to target government dissenters. – 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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