By Mario Casayuran
The Senate needs a united stand against moves that it and the House of Representatives vote jointly on a report of a Malacanang-created Consultative Commission seeking amendments to the 1987 Constitution and shifting the current unitary to a federal form of government.
This was stressed yesterday by Sen. Francis Pangilinan after his Senate constitutional amendments committee held its 10th public hearing on Charter Change (Cha Cha) proposal last Tuesday.
Former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, head of the Commission, and members of the Commission submitted a copy of their recommendation to President Duterte last July 9 and another copy to Senate President Vicente Sotto III last week.
Puno led members of his Commission in explaining the pros and cons of their recommendation during the seven hours of public hearing by the Pangilinan committee last Tuesday which was attended by Senators Sherwin T. Gatchallan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Juan Edgardo Angara.
Pangilinan said there is a pressing need for the formation of a consensus among members of the 24-man Senate because it is not acceptable to senators that their votes would be overwhelmed by 300 Representatives at the House should they vote jointly.
If a resolution on the Cha Cha and federal shift issues are to be voted upon, Sotto and Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon want the voting separately, not jointly.
‘’Hindi maaring magkaroon ng voting jointly. Hindi biro at hindi maari yung ilang mungkahing mawala na ang kapangyarihan ng Senado. Hindi maaring magkaroon ng House-only Cha Cha at hindi maaring ma-ignore ang Senado,’’ he said. (There should not be a joint voting. Moves to defang the Senate is not a joke, neither is it acceptable. A House-only Charter Change is not acceptable and the Senate should not be ignored.)
Senators are expected to meet in caucus after President Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
Pangilinan said his committee would still meet to hear explanations on various issues and recommendations of the Commission.
‘’We will have more meetings,’’ he stressed, adding that there is no need to rush the committee to wrap up its public hearings.
‘’Hindi tayo papayag na madiliin ito na kailangan nang maayos at walang ika-nga fast break na puwersahan,’’ he added. (We will not allow the hearing to be rushed and there is no need to ‘fast break’ it.)
‘’Any action of the Senate on the matter of constitutional amendments will have to go through our committee system and so the committee should be able to make it necessary,’’ he stressed.
Pangilinan said his committee hearing raised a lot of difficult questions needing urgent clarification.
‘’Among those questions that need clear answers from the Consultative Committee refer to cost and funding: How much is the creation of a federal government going to cost the Filipino people? How is it to be funded?’’ he asked.
About P55 billion is needed for salaries of new federal state elected officials, according to Dr. Rosario Manasan of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS).
‘’With P55 billion comprising half the tax take from Tax Reform of Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN 1), what is clear so far is that federalism means more taxes or more borrowings or both. These concerns prove that the Senate should not rush Cha-cha,’’ he said.
‘’Doing so is like careening off the cliff to political and economic limbo. If we wish to avoid political and economic disaster, we should not rush Charter change,’’ he added.