Although Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said the current 17th Congress has no more time to meet as a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Philippine Constitution, the House of Representatives, in the closing days of the session for the year last December, approved Resolution of Both Houses of Congress No. 15 (RBH-15) in which it proposed a draft of the proposed new Constitution.
The expectation is that the Senate, as the other part of the Constituent Assembly, will produce its own draft, and then the two chambers would meet to reconcile conflicting provisions. For ordinary laws, this is carried out in a bicameral Conference Committee. For the new Constitution, the entire membership of the two chambers might meet as a Constituent Assembly.
This early, it is becoming evident that this will be a very difficult process.
First, there are no set rules governing the process. The previous speaker Pantaleon Alvarez had insisted that the Constituent Assembly vote as one body but the Senate insists on separate voting as in the enactment of laws. New Speaker Arroyo agreed with the idea of separate voting, but when two starkly different versions of a Constitution are produced, how will the differences be resolved?
Second, while the Consultative Committee (Con-Com) led by former Chief Justice Renato Puno, appointed by President Duterte, came up with its proposed draft, the House came up with its own entirely different draft. Many provisions in the two drafts directly contradict each other. For example, the Con-Com draft contains provisions against political dynasties and turncoatism, while the House draft has no such provisions.
Third, the Con-Com draft was built around a federal system of government, which was President Duterte’s principal reason for wanting a new Constitution. It contains provisions for 18 federated regions, each with its own bureaucracy, legislature, and judiciary. But the House resolution merely empowers Congress to approve or disapprove applications by any group of provinces and cities to form a federal state.
The 17th Congress still has a few more session days left before it adjourns and the new 18th Congress, composed of new House members and half of the Senate membership to be elected on May 13, 2019, takes over. It is this new 18th Congress that will have to draft the new Constitution as a Constituent Assembly.
The events of these last few months have been highlighted by sharply divisive actions by both executive and legislative officials on the proposed new Constitution. The very idea of federalism, which is President Duterte’s main reason for wanting a new Constitution, is not supported by many members of Congress. It is also not supported by the public as shown in public opinion surveys.
Between now and the convening of the 18th Congress, a truly conscientious effort to consider the conflicting issues must be undertaken by our officials, including the view of many that the nation is doing well under our present Constitution and there is no urgent need for a new one at this time.