The big Charter change debate: Con-ass vs Con-con

Without any doubt, federalism has always been the consistent advocacy of President Duterte.  Presumably, the core purpose is to decentralize power to the regions and provinces with the hope of ceasing its dependence on the national government.

It is argued that  popular sovereignty becomes real and visible in federalism.  Self-rule is actualized with the regions being able to manage their own resources and finances and consequently take charge of their economic agenda.

What approach to take

However, how to make federalism happen is where the wider disagreement begins. The legislature is mandated by our constitution to pave the way for a federal form of government, subject to the approval of the people.

This early, the debate centers around whether the shift to federalism is an issue that needs an amendment or a revision of the Constitution, or as to whether it could be done via a constituent assembly or by a constitutional convention. Hence, Con-ass versus Con-con.

Legal grounds

TO be clear,  Sections 1 and 2 of Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution provide that any amendment to, or revision of the Constitution may be proposed by (1) Congress, upon a vote of three fourths of all its members,  or (2) a constitutional convention
and that Congress shall provide for the implementation of this right.  Another issue is the fact that the Constitution is silent on whether the two chambers should vote jointly or separately during the process of changing the Constitution.

Different routes

The House of Representatives, led by its formidable leader, Speaker Pantaleon D. Alvarez strongly advocates for a Con-ass. And because there is nothing in the Constitution that mandates that the two chambers should vote jointly or separately on the matter of Charter change, he  believes that there is no need to wait for the Senate to convene as a constitutent assembly. In fact, he said that the process has begun.

On the other hand, the Senate, after listening to ex-Supreme Court justices and other legal luminaries, came up with a stand that since the change to a federal government is an extremely vital revision, there is still room for them to decide on whether a Con-con or a Con-ass will be the suitable process to make federalism a reality. While Justice Hilario Davide Jr. sees no need for Charter change, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno sees that it is high time to make the constitution more relevant and attuned to the radically changing times.

However, both of them opined that a constitutional convention is the proper way of doing it because it removes the perception of partisan politics and self-interest that are associated with a Con-ass.  While arguably, a Con-con may be more expensive and would take more time,  it was posited that the Constitution, being the basic law of the land, is worth the investment.

Whatever and however these heated discussions take us, it is undeniable that the citizenry should be deeply involved in this matter. The Constitution is ours and whatever is stipulated therein affects the basic fabric of our daily lives.

We must vigilantly watch how the process develop, how the arguments are framed, what provisions shall be changed, what changes should be introduced so we, as a people, would be able to chart our destiny, via a genuine democratic exercise.


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