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Senate closes door on Cha-Cha for lack of time
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Senate closes door on Cha-Cha for lack of time

December 6 ------ The Senate is still not keen to take up proposals to revise the 1987 Constitution even as the House of Representatives comes close to approving a draft charter for a federal form of government. Senate President Vicente Sotto III said they cannot anymore accommodate the Lower Chamber’s Resolution of Both Houses No. 15 since the Upper Chamber is already pressed for time in approving the P3.757- trillion proposed national budget for 2019.

The resolution, passed by congressmen on second reading Tuesday, seeks to convene the Senate and House of Representatives into a constituent assembly to revise the 1987 Constitution and approve a proposed federal charter. The measure is expected to hurdle the Lower House on Monday. “Chances of the federal charter making it in the Senate at this point are very doubtful,” Sotto told reporters in a text message on Wednesday. The Senate chief said the House should have transmitted the General Appropriation Bill (GAB) to the Senate earlier so they could take up other controversial measures such as the proposed shift to a federal form of government.

In a separate message to the Manila Bulletin, Sotto said the House of Representatives cannot complain about the Senate’s inaction on federalism in choosing to prioritize the approval of the national budget. Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso, chairman of the House committee on constitutional amendments, said that the approval of RBH No. 15 will give the House a reason to seek the Supreme Court (SC) should the Senate sit on the measure. Inaction by senators, Veloso said, can be considered “grave abuse of discretion.”

“Inaction? We have not even received it. We will act on it by referring it to our Constitutional Amendments Committee. That’s the proper parliamentary procedure. They can ask the SC on what inaction means,” Sotto said. “Instead of blaming us absurdly, they should have passed the budget earlier and even that resolution much earlier,” he stressed. The Senate started only on Tuesday the plenary debates on the allocations granted to government agencies under the 2019 GAB.

The delay in its approval in the House was blamed on the changes in its leadership and the alleged “pork barrel” insertions amounting to some P50 billion. The Lower Chamber transmitted the bill to the Senate late November. Senators aim to pass the GAB before they go on a Christmas break to avoid a reenacted budget. Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes chaired by Senator Francis Pangilinan has yet to wrap up its public hearings on the proposed shift to a federal system of government.

Pangilinan had repeatedly said that federalism should not be rushed especially amid clamor against inflation, unemployment, and other concerns from the public. Cha-Cha transmittal Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo vowed yesterday the immediate transmittal of the draft federal charter to the Senate amid some senators’ declaration that the Charter change will be “dead on arrival” in the Upper Chamber.

She also shrugged off claims that the House leadership railroaded the second reading approval of Resolution of Both Houses No. 15 (RBH 15), which seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution and lifts the term limits of legislators and local officials. “Well, it’s part of the democratic process. There was a debate, it was voted on, we sent it to them. It’s part of the democratic process,” she told reporters in an ambush interview. Arroyo said RBH15 or the draft federal charter, which is among the priority measures of President Rodrigo Duterte in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), will be approved on third and final reading on Monday next week. RBH 15 was approved on second reading on Tuesday. “Because it passed on second reading, three days after the copy is circulated, we should be taking it up on third reading hopefully that would be Monday,” she said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Minority Leader Franklin Drilon earlier said there is no time to deliberate on Charter change. Seeking a presidential-bicameral-federal system of government, RBH 15 empowers Congress to establish federal states by convening Congress into a constituent assembly (Con-Ass). When asked about the lack of the anti-dynasty provision in RBH 15, Arroyo said, “Well you know, there was a debate so you ask the Chairman [of the House committee on constitutional amendments, Leyte Rep. Vicente Veloso. There was a debate and you know that I did not participate in the debate because I have always said that my only contribution there is the mechanism for setting up the Federal states. The others are all contributions of the other congressmen. They should answer for themselves.”

According to RBH 15, the country’s president and vice president will be elected to serve four-year terms, subject to one reelection. Under the draft charter, members of Congress shall be holders of college degrees and serve four-year terms. It provides that the first election under the proposed Constitution will be held on the second Monday of May 2022. Arroyo earlier said President Duterte’s federalism proposal will not materialize during her term as Speaker.