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So much to decide

AFTER the government decides how it proposes to amend the Constitution – by Constitutional Convention (Con-Con) or by Constitutional Assembly (Con-Ass), it must turn its attention to what should be amended in the present Constitution.

The choice between Con-Con and Con-Ass is a procedural matter. The Constitution provides for only three ways to amend it – through a Convention of elected representatives, through an Assembly of already elected senators and congressmen, or through a People’s Initiative.

There are brewing disagreements on both Con-Con and Con-Ass. Will Con-Con delegates be elected per province or district? How many from each? This early, Sen. Franklin Drilon has declared that only Congress – not the President – may decide on this matter. Another legislator – Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay – said he would ask the Supreme Court to rule on whether Congress, in case of a Con-Ass, approves the proposed amendments with the Senate and the House voting separately or as a joint body.

The road to Charter change appears to have many turns and many roadblocks. Con-Ass may not be as easy and as fast as earlier believed by those who prefer it over a convention.

Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez has proposed the creation of a 20-man commission by President Duterte to propose Charter amendments. At first blush, this appears to be out of line, as a commission is not one of the three ways allowed by the Constitution. Speaker Alvarez, however, stressed that his proposed commission is a preliminary or advisory group that will make a draft to be presented to a Con-Ass.

This makes it a very important body as Congress with its present members may not be prepared for the task of amending the Constitution. Its members – senators and congressmen – all ran for office with the expectation that they would enact bills of various kinds, look after the interests of their constituencies, and generally carry as one of the three basic government departments along with the executive and the judiciary. They never thought they would be asked to propose amendments to the Constitution.

The body proposed by Speaker Alvarez could provide the needed expertise in Constitution making. Its members could include authorities on the Constitution. But they would only propose a draft which would go to the Constitutional Assembly. Perhaps, therefore, the body of experts proposed by Alvarez should not be called a Constitutional Commission, the name given to the body that drew up the present 1987 Constitution.

Aside from the federal system of government being pushed by President Duterte, other proposals that have been made before might be considered, such as easing restriction on foreign investments. And the proposal that the party-list system be eliminated, as it seems to have been coopted by established political families, when it was intended to open Congress to marginalized and under-represented sectors of society.

In any case, the great debate on the Constitution is on. Let us accept it as part of our people’s increasing involvement in public issues following the entry of President Duterte’s government of change.