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LRay asks House: ‘Prioritize bill on Con-Con delegates’

CAMARINES SUR 2nd district Representative LRay Villafuerte has welcomed the support in the Congress for fixing up via a Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) the “antiquated and inapt” provisions of the 1987 Constitution that “has long been crying out for reforms.”

The Constitution’s “inward-looking, overly protective” provisions on the economy, for example, are “believed responsible for handcuffing the Philippines from becoming an investment haven despite its pre-pandemic rise as one of Asia’s economic star, said Villafuerte, who filed two months ago House Bill (HB) No. 4926 tasking duly-elected Con-Con delegates to study possible constitutional amendments and revisions.


“With constitutional reforms seemingly gaining traction in the House of Representatives, we are appealing to the chamber’s leadership to add to the list of priority bills identified by the President with Speaker Martin (Romualdez) and Senate President Migz (Juan Miguel Zubiri) for priority action the proposals for Con-Con delegates, to be elected in next year’s balloting, to write proposed changes to the 1987 Charter,” Villafuerte said.


Villafuerte issued the statement as he welcomed the recent filing by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez of House Joint Resolution No.12 establishing a Con-Con to specifically review and amend the economic provisions of the Constitution.


HB 4926 also seeks the selection of one delegate each in every legislative district of the country, in a balloting to be held simultaneously with the next regular national elections.


As it stands now, these proposed simultaneous polls for Con-Con delegates will have to take place 11 months from now because President Marcos last month signed Republic Act No. 11935 postponing the Barangay/Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) originally set this Dec. 5 to October 30, 2023.


After the October 2023 polls, the next nationwide electoral exercise is the midterm balloting due on May 12, 2025.


Following the resumption of legislative sessions last Nov. 7, Romualdez said the House would prioritize the approval before legislators take their Christmas break beginning Dec. 17 about 16 to 18 bills among the 30 measures included in the Common Legislative Agenda (CLA) drawn up by congressional stalwarts led by the Speaker and Zubiri with Mr. Marcos during the first Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) convened by the President last Oct. 10.


Five of the CLA bills cover proposals introduced by Villafuerte: HB 277 on establishing E-Government; HB 308and HB 994 creating, respectively, the Virology Science and Technology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) and the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC); HB 1093 putting up the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC); and HB 4019 reviving the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) course in schools.


“I believe legislators who similarly back constitutional reforms will agree with me that the chamber has room for several other priority bills, including the election in the next national polls of delegates to a Con-Con to amend our Constitution,” Villafuerte said.


Villafuerte explained that among the three options allowed for Charter Change under the 1987 Constitution, the “most transparent and trustworthy” manner of introducing needed constitutional reforms is through a Con-Con, in lieu of either of the options for the Congress to convene itself into a Constituent Assembly (Con-Ass) or for the people themselves to take direct action through the “People’s Initiative.”


“The Con-Ass route is likely to go nowhere, given that this constitutional option for Charter Change is likely to be sidetracked by the expectedly protracted national debate on whether the 1987 Constitution actually requires senators and House members to vote separately or jointly on proposed constitutional amendments and/or revisions,” Villafuerte said.


“Moreover,” he said, “a Con-Ass will further polarize our people, in light of the legitimate concern that devoting part of our official time as legislators to the Con-Con would only distract us from, and let us devote less of our efforts and resources to, the task of law-making, which is what our voters had elected us in the first place to do in the House of Representatives and the Senate.”


As for the “People’s Initiative option,” he said, “this process, considering its nature and the way it is supposed to make changes and seek the people’s support and approval, is only ideal for introducing minor revisions to the Constitution, and not for major amendments or an overhaul that will possibly entail major changes in numerous constitutional provisions.”


Villafuerte said one minor revision in the Constitution, for example, may entail changes in various articles and sections in the entire Constitution, all of which will have to be presented to, and approved by, the electorate in a plebiscite.


“One knotty issue, for instance, that has led to controversies and seemingly endless debates in the past is on the needed action of the bicameral Congress on certain concerns, because the framers of the 1987 Constitution had failed to explicitly state in all of the Charter’s provisions concerning congressional approval on whether senators and House members need to vote separately or jointly in a Con-Ass,” he said.


“Proposals to introduce amendments via the Cons-Ass route failed to take off in the past, for example, because these reform proposals had sparked long-drawn-out debates on whether senators and House members need to vote separately or jointly on amendments or revisions,” he added.


As proposed in HB 4926, the Con-Con shall be composed of one (1) delegate from every legislative district nationwide.


At present, there are 243 congressional districts across the country.


“The clamor for Charter Change has always been relevant,” said Villafuerte in the bill. ““However, calls for genuine constitutional reforms have taken a backseat because of perceived controversies and allegations of corruption in previous administrations.’


“Filipinos, meanwhile, take severe punishment from corruption, high prices, inequitable distribution of income, and a lopsided playing field when it comes to foreign investments,” he said. “Thus, while it is a given that the present Charter needs to go through the process of revision, this should be done with much deliberation and in a transparent and trustworthy atmosphere.”


He said that in the realm of economic reforms, for instance, “the Philippines has won international investment-grade ratings and acclaimed as a rising economic star in recent years, but such accolades have not attracted the impressive level of foreign direct investments (FDIs) going to, say, Vietnam or Thailand, because of our restrictive constitutional provisions that limit foreigners to a maximum 40% participation in certain local businesses that are attractive to foreign investors.”


Villafuerte cited the importance of completing constitutional reforms through “a transparent process that ensures the participation by the nation at large. In keeping with the sovereign mandate of the people, the new Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines should be truly reflective of the ideals and aspirations of the Filipino nation, and not of a select few.”


The bill requires the would-be delegates to ensure that whatever amendments or revisions they are to draft and eventually submit to the people for ratification are anchored on the principles of democracy— separation of power, autonomy and self-determination of the regions, social justice, human rights, good governance and public accountability, among others.


The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is directed under HB 4926 to draw up the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the holding of the election for Con-Con delegates within 30 days from the effectivity of this Act.


Any person elected as a Con-Con delegate “shall not be eligible to run for any public office or position in the first national and first local elections to be held after the ratification of the new Constitution,” the bill states.


“Further, no elected delegate of the Con-Con shall be appointed to any public office or position while the Con-Con is in session and within a period of one (1) year after the plebiscite for the revised or amended Constitution,” it adds.


The would-be elected delegates are tasked under Villafuerte’s bill to study and draft the proposed amendments and/or revisions to the Constitution within two (2) years after the effectivity of its rules.


“No extension of the term of the Con-Con shall be allowed,” said Villafuerte in his bill. “The death or incapacity of an elected delegate shall not be a ground for the holding of a special election or for the delay of the proceedings of the Convention.”


The Con-Con is mandated under the bill to submit its recommended constitutional reforms—following a process of public hearings and deliberations on whatever changes are to be agreed upon by the delegates— “for the people’s ratification in a plebiscite to be held not earlier than 60 days or later than 90 days after approval of the amendments and/or revisions, and the same shall be valid only when ratified by a majority of the votes cast,” Villafuerte said.


The rules of the Con-Con must be completed by its elected members within a period of thirty (30) days from the time these delegates take their oath.


Such drafted rules must be approved by a majority vote of all the elected delegates.


Villafuerte pointed out that Section 3, Article XVII of the 1987 Constitution provides for two alternative modes of calling for a Con-Con:


• Call for a Con-Con by the Congress upon a vote of two-thirds of all its Members; or


• Submit to the electorate the question of calling a Con-Con upon a majority vote of the members of Congress.


“It is herein proposed that the first option be adopted by Congress, i.e. call for a Con-Con by two-thirds (2/3) of the vote of all the members of Congress,” Villafuerte said in his bill.


“Calling for a Con-Con whose delegates shall be elected by the people simultaneously with the next Barangay/SK or National elections, is a measure that is intended to be more transparent and less conflict-ridden,” he added.


Prospective candidates to the Con-Con are required under the bill to be natural born citizens of the Philippines who are at least 25 years of age on the day of the election; are qualified voters; and of recognized probity, nationalism and patriotism.


The bill seeks to disqualify, however, the following persons from being candidates for Con-Con delegates:


• All incumbent elected officials of the government, including but not limited to the President, Vice President, members of the bicameral Congress, and local government officials; and


• Persons who have been declared by any competent authority as insane or incompetent, or have been sentenced by final judgment for subversion, insurrection, rebellion or for any offense for which they have been sentenced to a penalty of more than 18 months or for a crime involving moral turpitude—unless they have been given plenary pardon or granted amnesty.


Section 1, Article XVII of the Philippine Constitution provides that any amendment or revision to the Charter may be proposed by:


· The Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members, after convening itself as a Constituent Assembly;


· A Constitutional Convention; or


· Proposed directly by the people through their own initiative, upon a petition signed by at least 12% of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three (3) % of the registered voters therein.


No amendment under this section on People’s Initiative shall be authorized within five years following the ratification of this Constitution nor oftener than once every five (5) years thereafter.


With the exception of the Supreme Court, the bill bars any court of the Philippines from acquiring jurisdiction to issue any restraining order or writ of preliminary injunction against the Con-Con in any case or dispute arising from or necessary to the application and enforcement of the provisions of this Act.


As for quorum rules, the bill states that a majority of all delegates shall constitute a quorum to do business, but a smaller number may meet, adjourn from day to day, and compel the attendance of absent delegates in such manner and under such penalties as the Convention may provide.


HB 4926 requires that plenary sessions of the Convention, including the meetings of its committee, be duly recorded and made public.


The would-be Con-Con may hold its session in any place in the Philippines, and it shall conduct public hearings to ensure that the Filipino people will have adequate and sustained participation in the formulation of the proposed constitutional reforms.


The public shall have full access to the records of proceedings of the Convention.

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