MANILA, Philippines – The next House Speaker will have his hands full as he aims to pass at least 3 priority bills in the 17th Congress: measures to pave the way for federalism, the restoration of the death penalty, and the amendment of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act.
In an interview with Rappler on Friday, July 1, Davao del Norte First District Representative Pantaleon “Bebot” Alvarez said that the key measures would help fulfill the campaign promises of President Rodrigo Duterte, who stood on a platform of shifting the Philippines to federalism and a stronger drive against crime. (READ: The Leader I Want: Rodrigo Duterte’s to-fix list for 2016)
“For one, federalism is the advocacy of the President so we have to do it,” he said. “This is just in the fulfilment of an advocacy and a commitment during the campaign.”
Even before he officially became a presidential candidate, Duterte had long campaigned for a federalist form of government which would grant more independence to local government units. (READ: Will federalism address PH woes? Pros and cons of making the shift)
Alvarez has already filed House Concurrent Resolution Number 1 for a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) to pave the way for federalism. He hopes to have the resolution passed in the next two months.
“If you ask me, my hope is we could pass it at the most, in two months. After that, the second bill can be passed hopefully before Christmas,” he explained.
The second bill will focus on laying out the details of the Con-Con, including the qualifications of the delegates.
“The provisions of the Constitution do not qualify that it has to be all elective officials,” he told Rappler. “Wala hong ganoong qualification (There’s no such qualification). Hindi naka–state (It’s not stated) whether the delegates must be elected or appointed, so we can do both.”
The duration of the entire process, Alvarez added, would depend on how fast Congress will move.
Senator Franklin Drilon had said in previous interviews that there is a consensus among senators to amend the Constitution to allow for a shift to a federal form of government. He supports doing this through a Con-Con.
A Con-Con is one of 3 modes of amending the Constitution. Article XVII, Section 3 of the 1987 Constitution states, “The Congress may, by a vote of two-thirds of all its Members, call a constitutional convention, or by a majority vote of all its Members, submit to the electorate the question of calling such a convention.”
The other modes are through a people’s initiative, and a constituent assembly.
The 1987 Constitution specifies that any proposed amendment to the 1987 Constitution must by ratified by a majority of voters in a plebiscite.
In addition to federalism, the 17th Congress will also focus on two other Duterte platforms: death penalty and amending the Juvenile Justice Law or the Pangilinan Law, named after Senator Francis Pangilinan who authored it.
Under the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, as amended in 2013, criminals 15 years old and below cannot be charged with a criminal offense and would instead be subject to government intervention.
The Philippines became the first Asian nation to abolish capital punishment in 2006, under the Arroyo administration.
“He wants to fight drugs and criminality in 3 to 6 months,” Alvarez said. “So we have to address those problems through the Pangilinan Law and the restoration of the death penalty.”
More transparent Congress
The incoming House Speaker, however, insists that the House of Representatives will be consultative and transparent. The 17th Congress, in deliberating the proposed laws, will hold more public hearings.
“Of course, we will hold public hearings,” he told Rappler. “The beauty of democracy is we can disagree. But at the end of the day, still the majority prevails.”
The Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which Alvarez supports, will also be put in the spotlight in the coming 17th Congress.
The FOI seeks to help reduce corruption and enhance accountability by making records and processes in government agencies more transparent.
“I’m for it,” he emphasized. “Wala naman tayong gustong itago eh (We don’t want to hide anything).”
While the Senate passed the bill on third and final reading in March 2014, the measure was still up for approval on second reading when the 16th Congress adjourned on June 6. (READ: What happened to the FOI bilI under Aquino?)
Reviving the Ledac
Alvarez expects that there will be a stronger relationship between the legislative and the executive branches of government, considering the number of lawmakers who belong to PDP-Laban, the new president’s party.
From 3 members in the 16th Congress, he told Rappler there are now 73 PDP-Laban members in the House, a number he expects would increase in the coming weeks.
The current composition of Congress boosts Alvarez’s confidence that the priority bills – especially federalism – will be passed “within [Duterte’s] term as president.”
The incoming Speaker said he suggested to Duterte having regular meetings of the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).
Ledac, established through Republic Act 7640 under President Fidel V. Ramos, serves as a “consultative and advisory body” to the President. It also serves as a facility to discuss key policy issues.
According to Alvarez, the Ledac will be an “effective vehicle” between the executive and legislative branches specifically to avoid vetoed bills. The council “will avoid bottlenecks and wasted time.”
“Kami naman sa Congress (through Ledac), we will be informed properly so we will be inclined to support it, di ba (right)?” he said. “Imagine, Congress wasted so much time only to be vetoed by the president. Sayang naman iyong panahon (We’re wasting time).”
As the Duterte administration starts, Alvarez appealed to politicians to set aside their differences to support the new president amid impeachment rumors. He was responding to questions on possible moves to impeach Duterte.
“Para sa bayan, tama na ang personal interests (For the sake of the country, let’s set aside our personal interests),” he said.
“Hindi pa nga nakakapag-umpisa mag-serve, iyon na kaagad ang iniisip, to destabilize the administration (He hasn’t even started serving, that’s what they are thinking already, to destabilize the administration).”
“Sabi nga ni Presidente (Just like what the President said), ‘Stop it,’” he quipped. “S-T-O-P.”
Duterte himself said, on June 27, that he is not afraid of possible impeachment charges by critics.
As far as Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr is concerned, none of the legislators are thinking of impeaching Duterte.
“Let’s give the new president the chance to run the country without talk of impeachment or anything like that being uttered by anybody of whatever political party,” Belmonte, who belongs to the Liberal Party, had told reporters on June 28. (READ: Belmonte: ‘Zero’ chances for Duterte impeachment) – Rappler.com