Con­flict­ing Char­ter drafts need to be rec­on­ciled

Manila Bulletin - - Editorial -

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 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 (ConCom) 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.

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