LETTING Congress convene as a Constituent Assembly to fast-track changes to the 1987 Constitution is the wrong way to amend the Charter, a veteran lawmaker said on Thursday.
Rep. Jose “Lito” Atienza of Buhay party-list, in a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times editors, made the statement after the House approved a resolution calling for a Constituent Assembly, and Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s insistence that the House could amend the Charter even without the senators’ participation.
The Constitution is not explicit on whether the House and Senate should vote jointly or separately in a Constituent Assembly, one of the three modes of amending the 1987 Constitution.
“They can’t even present a definite proposal for federalism. How can we [in Congress]decide if we don’t know what is really being offered here? With the way Congress is behaving right now, Con-Ass is the wrong way to amend the Constitution. Why trust Congress on this? It’s like letting a non-carpenter make a furniture, or going to a carpenter when you want to have your bad tooth pulled,” Atienza, who has been a politician since 1963 and legislator since 1984, said.
“Are we constitutionalists? No. Would you want a carpenter to pull out your bad tooth? Let’s not resort to that. Kawawa naman ang ating bansa (Pity our country). We will be wasting precious time if we insist on what is wrong. Nobody was elected in Congress because they promised to change the constitution. We were elected because we promised our constituents will have access to social services like healthcare,” he added.
Atienza claimed that a Constituent Assembly was tantamount to setting up Charter change for failure, considering that the senators were unanimous in their stance that the House and the Senate should vote separately.
“The Senate already said that the House and Senate should vote separately, and rightly so. We are a bicameral congress. If they will rush this Con-Ass, the Senate will just resort to stonewalling. The senators will not allow this joint voting, and we have to run to the Supreme Court for the final interoperation. And that would take time,” he pointed out.
Atienza stressed that a Constitutional Convention, composed of both elected delegates and presidential appointees who are esteemed lawyers and experts, would be the best way to amend the Constitution because it would reflect the genuine voice of the people and restrict the entry of vested interests.
Atienza said 80 percent of the convention delegates should be elected by the people, while the remainder should be reserved for presidential appointees who are constitutionalists and legal experts.
“In a Con-Con, we will have the best minds [on board]. It is not true that the same political families will just be elected as Con-Con delegates. Yes, a number of them can be elected, but they cannot totally succeed [in winning all Con-Con delegate seats],” he said.
“This is about openness of the whole process. In a Con-Con, all concerns will be ventilated. If we make the amendment of the constitution exclusive to a few people, then we will have a problem. A Con-Ass will just worsen the situation. If Con-Ass is the case, it is better not to tinker with the Constitution,” the former Manila mayor added.
Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo backed Atienza’s stance of having a convention to amend the 1987 Charter, so that pending bills in Congress won’t takw the back seat.
“I would always go for Con-Con because in that venue, everybody will be given a chance to air their side, and the Con-Con delegates will be focused on making changes in the Constitution. In a Con-Ass, Congress will already have too much on its plate that it won’t be able to give undivided attention in this very important task of changing the Constitution,” Robredo said in a visit to Muntinlupa City for her office’s anti-poverty initiative dubbed “Angat Buhay.”
Robredo argued that ConAss, while cheaper, did not necessarily mean efficiency.
“Given the choice, I’d rather have the way where we can ensure that the concerns of our people would really be addressed,” Robredo added.
LLANESCA T. PANTI
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