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Senate to prioritize Cha-cha, says Pimentel

Senate President Aquilno “Koko” Pimentel III said the Senate would “work harder to improve the quality of life for all” as they tackle other priority bills including the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, Anti-Terrorism Law, National ID System and the Universal Healthcare for All Filipinos Act. Philstar.com/File Photo

MANILA, Philippines — Amending the Constitution will be the priority of the Senate when Congress resumes session on Jan. 15 to start the process of shifting the country to a federal system, Senate President Aquilno “Koko” Pimentel III said yesterday.

He said the Senate would “work harder to improve the quality of life for all” as they tackle other priority bills including the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, Anti-Terrorism Law, National ID System and the Universal Healthcare for All Filipinos Act.

Pimentel is expected to file next week his own proposal for Charter change (Cha-cha) that calls on the Senate and House of Representatives to convene into a constituent assembly (con-ass) to draft the amendments to provide for a federal system in the Constitution.

The Senate committee on constitutional amendments chaired by Sen. Francis Pangilinan is set to conduct hearings next week on the three pending Cha-cha bills filed by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Sens. Richard Gordon and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Pimentel said while many Filipinos remain unconvinced by the administration party PDP-Laban’s campaign for federalism, there is a “critical mass” that will ensure success for the change in the form of government.

“That’s why I say the time is ripe for federalism,” he said.

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Senators earlier expressed support for amending the Constitution, including its economic provisions, but said the process should not be rushed and would not entail the cancellation of the elections and the abolition of the Senate.

Pangilinan said constitution experts, members of academe, business sector, labor, civil society and other concerned stakeholders would be invited to help provide inputs in going about the needed constitutional reforms “through a transparent process that guarantees utmost participation by the nation at large,” Pangilinan said, quoting Zubiri’s bill.

“The way to initiate changes or reforms in the Constitution is through a deliberative, thorough and transparent process. Everyone will have a say here and no one will be left in the dark,” Pangilinan said.

He said the committee would first determine if there is a need to amend the Constitution; which provisions should be amended and the mode of amending the Charter.  

JDV bucks no-el

Former speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. supported the administration’s plan to shift the nation to the federal system through Cha-cha.

However, he opposed the proposal of some allies of President Duterte for a no-el (no elections) scenario in 2019 and to just extend the term of office of senators and members of the House up to 2022.

“The elections can proceed next year but already under the federal system. We can elect senators and House members if the plan is to keep the bicameral Congress, or we can just elect members of parliament,” De Venecia said in a television interview.

It was Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez who first floated the no-el with term extension scenario. Senate President Pimentel supported it and went as far as saying Duterte’s term could also be extended if he agreed to it.

In a related development, Bayan Muna chairman Neri Colmenares said one Cha-cha proposal pending in the House is for a term extension of five years for incumbent lawmakers and two years for Duterte.

Colmenares said such proposal calls for changing the term of office of members of Congress and local officials from three years to five years.

“There would be a five-year transition to the federal system during which all incumbents would be extended,” he said.

De Venecia pushed for Cha-cha during the Ramos and Arroyo administrations when he was speaker. – With Jess Diaz

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