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Senate prepares for Cha-cha debates

Senate deliberations on the various proposals to revise the 1987 Constitution are expected to gain momentum this year when Congress resumes sessions on January 16.

Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said he hopes that Congress can already be convened into a Constituent Assembly next year or if ever a Constitutional Convention is chosen as the mode to be used to amend the Constitution, the government should start preparing for elections to be held this year.

Pimentel said he expects the 25-man Constitutional Commission that President Duterte has formed and assigned to do consultative study of the Constitution ready to submit to Congress its working draft on how Charter change should be pursued and what amendments should be considered.

“They should be ready with the draft by the first half of 2017…So we can have a working draft to start discussing on,” Pimentel said in a recent radio interview.

“Because if we convert ourselves, the Congress, into a Constituent Assembly, or if we call for a Constitutional Convention, either way, we need to allot money for that, and likewise, set aside the date of election. We need to pass a law,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel downplayed concerns the President would abuse his authority and declare Martial Law.

Duterte has urged lawmakers to consider amending the Constitution and make it less difficult for the President to declare Martial Law.

“There’s nothing to worry about. Our President is just really hard on crime especially on drugs. That is the only thing he repeats. And he is being consistent with himself – on his all-out war against crime, drugs and corruption,” he said.

Pimentel said the President’s proposal is not shocking as it was the rule enforced before the 1987 Constitution was followed. “And that’s the reason why we had one President who declared Martial Law before. But that was actually the rule before, it’s not a shocking idea,” he said.

Duterte has rallied his allies at the Senate and House of Representatives to pursue Charter change as he called for a shift to federalism.

Pimentel, a partymate of the President and head of the Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban, pointed out that the shift to federalism is one of the campaign promises of Duterte during the May 2016 elections.

The Senate Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Revision of Codes, headed by Senate President Pro Tempore Franklin Drilon, launched its initial hearing into the various Charter change measures pending before Congress last December 8. (Hannah L. Torregoza)