Charter change possible next year – Miriam

By Efren L. Danao, Senior Reporter

A constituent assembly to amend the Constitution could start next year despite the Senate consensus that it could wait until after 2010, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago said Friday.

In a forum on Charter change at Our Lady of Fatima University in Valenzuela City, Santiago said Charter change, or “Cha-cha,” could push through in 2009 if the position of the House of Representatives on the computation of the three-fourths vote needed to convert Congress into a constituent assembly would hold sway.

She explained that the position of the House is there would be a joint voting of the House and the Senate in a constituent assembly and that the three-fourths vote should be obtained from the total number of repre­sentatives and senators.

“Since there are more congressmen than senators, the House will be able to out-vote the Senate,” she said.

The Senate position is that Charter change needs three-fourths of the House plus three-fourths of the Senate,” she said.

She predicted the Supreme Court would eventually decide the conflict between the House and the Senate. She noted, however, that even former Supreme Court justices and constitutional convention delegates are divided on the answer to this issue.

No clear answers from Constitution

The 1987 Constitution did not specify whether the House and the Senate should vote jointly or separately when Congress constitutes itself into a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution. Any Supreme Court decision favoring the House position would make the Senate vote in a constituent assembly irrelevant.

Santiago said that as a constitutional law professor, she opposes any Charter change unless there are compelling reasons.

“One compelling reason is the imperative necessity to change the nationalistic provisions, in order that the Philippines can be globally competitive,” she said.

Senate Minority Leader Aqui­lino Pimentel Jr., author of a joint resolution seeking a shift to a federal government, wants Cha-cha as soon as possible. He is hopeful that his resolution would precipitate a nationwide information campaign and debates on the merits of his proposal.

Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments, had said he would conduct hearings nationwide to feel the sentiments of the regions on Charter change. At the same time, he insisted that amending the Constitution could be best pursued if candidates who make an issue of it in 2010 will win.

Senate President Manuel Villar said Charter change could wait until after 2010.

“It is too divisive an issue right now, when we should be concentrating on alleviating the economic difficulties of our people,” he said. (ManilaTimes)

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