Sotto: Cha-cha not a Senate priority

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    CHARTER change (Cha-cha) is not a priority of the Senate.

    This was the rejoinder of Senate President Vicente Sotto III to the latest move of the House of Representatives to amend the 1987 Constitution, particularly directed at lifting economic restrictions and fixing the terms of legislators and local officials to five years subject to three re-elections.

    “Ngayon, I have to be very candid about it. Hindi priority ng Senate ‘yun (It is not a priority of the Senate),” Sotto said in an interview with radio dzMM.

    Sotto said no one among his colleagues has filed a similar measure.

    “Kung meron sa amin na magfa-file na kahawig niya, mapag-uusapan. Pero kung wala, siguro magta-transmittal sila sa amin ng resolution nila or whatever form they would want it, at saka namin pag-uusapan (If one of my colleagues in the Senate will file a similar measure, that will be deliberated upon. But if there is none, maybe the House can transmit to us a resolution or whatever form they would want it, then that’s the time when we will talk about it),” the Senate President added.

    Sotto issued the statement in response to the recent move of Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, asking the House committee on rules and leadership to schedule plenary deliberations on his panel’s proposed revisions to the Constitution.

    Rodriguez had suggested that the House convene itself as a constituent assembly (con-ass) when they resume sessions on January 20 next year after a month-long Christmas break which will begin December 20.

    Rodriguez said the Constitution does not require the House and the Senate to convene together in a joint session as a con-ass to tackle proposed amendments to the Charter.

    He said that once the House has approved the Cha-cha proposals as a con-ass, these will be sent to the Senate for the upper chamber’s action.

    Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the House’s Cha-cha is good as dead in the Senate.

    “If the House of Representatives would insist on passing Cha-cha, make it a point to include their return address, because the Senate and the Filipino people will not accept it,” Drilon said as he echoed Sotto’s statement.

    “Our counterparts in the lower house have the fighting spirit of a Filipino athlete. I do not want to dampen their spirit, but their Cha-cha is doomed,” Drilon said.

    Last week, a still unnumbered resolution was approved by Rodriguez’s committee in a closed-door meeting.

    The resolution, among others, proposes to fix the terms of congressmen and senators and local government officials to five years subject to three re-elections, or a total of 15 years.

    Under the Constitution, congressmen and local officials have three-year terms limited to three reelections or nine years, while a senator has a six-year term and can be elected to two consecutive terms.

    The resolution likewise increases the number of senators from 12 to 27 or three per region, and provides that the president and vice president shall be elected in tandem.

    It likewise seeks to add the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” in the provisions related to economic restrictions.

    Drilon said the non-mention of Cha-cha and federalism in the last State of the Nation Address was a clear message to Congress that Charter amendment is no longer a priority of the administration.

    “Apparently, the message was lost on the members of the House of Representatives. I had said it before and I will say it once more: Cha-cha is dead,” Drilon stressed.

    The minority leader said it was a self-serving move on the part of congressmen to propose an extension of their term: “The term extension is ill-conceived. It extinguishes all the good intentions they may have in mind in pushing for Cha-cha. We will oppose it.”

    Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the House can always test the Constitution by convening itself into a con-ass.

    “They can always test the Constitution. Nobody can prevent them except the Constitution itself. At the end of the day, the Supreme Court will decide. And yes, the Filipino people,” Lacson said.

    Lacson said the manner in which the solons will vote for changes in the Charter must be first resolved before the Senate participates in the discussion for a charter change.

    Also, Drilon reminded the House that majority of Filipinos have already expressed their opposition to the proposed shift to a federal system of government, citing a 2018 survey by Pulse Asia which showed that 67 percent of Filipinos opposed Charter change, with only 18 percent in favor and 14 percent still undecided.

    The Rodriguez panel approved the unnumbered resolution last week and is planning on changing the Constitution by treating it as an ordinary piece of legislation.

    The resolution specifically seeks to amend Articles VI, X, XII, XIV, and XVI of the 1987 Constitution and it will have to be approved by three-fourths of both House and Senate.

    There has long been a dispute in the manner of voting because Article XVII, section 1 of the Constitution merely provides that “any amendment to, or revision of, this Constitution may be proposed by the Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its Members.”