The House Committee on Constitutional Amendments began its hearings-slash-public consultations on bills seeking Charter change (Cha-cha) Thursday, Jan. 26 in the current 19th Congress.
And as expected, the experts invited by the panel gave differing opinions on the topic during the five-hour, whole-day hearing.
“The rationale for this exercise this morning is for the committee and Congress to get the sense and pulse of the people on the important issue of constitutional reform and how it affects their lives,” panel chairman, Cagayan de Oro 2nd district Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said at the beginning of the discussions.
Former Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza, one of the many legal luminaries invited to the hearing, said that the actual cost of amending the 1987 Charter is among the first considerations.
There are two ways of effecting Cha-cha: via constitutional convention (con-con) or constituent assembly (con-ass). He said the former is the more expensive route, since it involves the election one con-con delegate per district, and allocating a budget for their salaries.
But Mendoza claimed that there is a "risk and danger" involved with a con-con, since there's a possibility that it could have "runaway Constitutional amendments” that cannot be controlled.
In a con-ass, the sitting members of Congress (House and/or the Senate) would take on the task of the con-con delegates--which is to discuss the proposed constitutional amendments--on top of their normal jobs.
In this regard, Mendoza questioned the "propriety" of leaving it up to members of Congress to vote for “additional powers” that they themselves would wield.
At least two resource persons--laywer Raul Lambino, a member of the 2005 Consultative Commission; and Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) Vice President for Luzon, lawyer Dionisio Donato Garciano--were either favorable or had an open mind on Cha-cha.
"We must also give good intentions, or give the benefit of the doubt to good intentions. We must give this committee the benefit of the doubt in proposing amendments to the 1987 Constitution. This initiative is made with good intentions," Garciano said.
Lambino, for his part, said during the hearing that he favors a switch to a parliamentary federal system of government from the current unitary presidential system. But he admitted that it's easier said than done and thus needs thorough study.
Other resource persons, like former Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Neri Colmemares, didn't mince words with their opposition to revising the 36-year-old Constitution.
He enumerated the current problems of the country--the persisting Covid-19 pandemic, fast inflation rate, hunger, and corruption--that he feels should be addressed first before Cha-cha.
"Walang mangyayaring pag-unlad sa atin Mr Chair kahit sampung beses tayo mag-Cha-cha sa isang taon (We won't achieve any progress Mr. Chair even if we hold 10 Cha-chas in a year)," Colmenares told the panel.
Christian Monsod, a framer of the 1987 Constitution, said outright that Cha-cha isn't needed, at least not until the promise of the EDSA People Power revolution had been fulfilled.
"The inspiration of the 1987 Constitution was EDSA, which wasn't only about the restoration of democracy through peacefuls means. To the poor, it was also a promise of a new social order that remains unfulfilled to this day," said Monsod.