Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said as early as two weeks ago that there will not be enough time for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution before the current 17th Congress ends in June next year. President Duterte had hoped that Congress, meeting as a Constituent Assembly, would be able to approve a new Charter built around a federal system of government in the next few months and have it ratified in a plebiscite to be held jointly with the elections in May, 2019.
Speaker Arroyo said she hoped to move the process forward as far as she can during her term as speaker of the House. “I hope those who follow after will pick up from where we left off in this Congress,”she said. Last Thursday, Senate President
Vicente Sotto III also said any further action on Charter change would best be done after the May elections.
There is indeed not enough time for the current Congress to work on a new constitution in the next eight or nine months. It would be rushing a project – a new constitution – that should be carried out with all due deliberation. For the constitution will not just define the structure of our government; it will voice its goals and aspirations, its spirit as a nation. It will shape the future of the country in the coming decades.
Many problems have already emerged in talks about the proposed charter change, particularly the economic costs of the shift to a federal structure. But many other important issues and principles are involved – the people’s basic human rights, social, cultural, and political issues, foreign investments,national territory, and foreign relations, to cite a few.
It would not be right to rush discussions and judgment on such important matters as these just to meet a deadline imposed by the election in May. A draft has been made by a Consultative Committee
created by President Duterte but many of its provisions have been questioned, including those on local governments which appear to have lost much of what they have gained in authority and funding in the last few years.
Many senators are opposed to revising the Constitution at all at this time. Many public sectors are concerned lest federalism result in breaking up the country into 18 regions at odds with each other. The administration’s economic managers are afraid the proposed form of government would “wreak havoc” on economic growth and create a “fiscal nightmare.”
We must proceed with all due care within the limitations posed by the present situation. Speaker Arroyo said she will begin the process now and move it as far as far as possible, in a learning process for the people as well as for the officials concerned.
It will surely not be completed within the few months left of the current Congress, but it is her hope – as it is ours – that those who follow, those who will win election this May, 2019, and form the 18th Congress will carry on what has been begun and bring about a new era for the Philippines under a new Constitution.